Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, July 20, 2009

Example of a Good Query Letter III

It's been a while since I last featured a stellar query letter that sent me into a partial requesting frenzy, and this time around I thought I'd take a page from Kristin Nelson's book and share the query for a novel that recently sold.

Not only is Lisa Brackmann's debut novel ROCK PAPER TIGER to die for, but when she originally contacted me she wrote one of the best queries I've ever received. (Frequent readers might also know Lisa as blog commenter Other Lisa).

Without further ado:

Dear Mr. Bransford,

The Beijing '08 Olympics are over, the war in Iraq is lost, and former National Guard medic Ellie McEnroe is stuck in China, trying to lose herself in the alien worlds of performance artists and online gamers. When a chance encounter with a Chinese Muslim dissident drops her down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, Ellie must decide who to trust among the artists, dealers, collectors and operatives claiming to be on her side – in particular, a mysterious organization operating within a popular online game.

ROCK PAPER TIGER is a fast-paced, 108,000 word mainstream novel set in a China where the ultra-modern and cutting-edge clash with ancient neighborhoods and traditions, and in an America where the consequences of war reverberate long after the troops have come home. It will appeal to fans of William Gibson’s books with contemporary settings, Laura Lippman’s strong female protagonists, and almost anybody’s whacked-out travelogues about the world’s more surreal places.

I have a background in politics, Chinese history and the entertainment industry. I am working on a pop biography of Zhou Enlai for a small press and with a partner wrote a feature screenplay based on a series of Taiwanese fantasy novels, THE IMMORTALS, which was optioned by ActionGate Films. I was also a contributing editor for TWILIGHT OF EMPIRE: RESPONSES TO OCCUPATION, a collection of essays about the American occupation of Iraq (Perceval Press, 2004). I lived in China, travel there often and speak decent, if not quite fluent, Mandarin.

I’m querying you because you like novels set in foreign countries.

Also, I hate the Lakers.

Best regards,

This query is just stellar. It's well-written, it has a nice balance between key details (alien worlds of performance artists and gamers), plot (chance encounter drops her into a rabbit hole of conspiracies), personalization (knows my taste), and most importantly of all, hates the Lakers. I had to restrain myself from immediately offering representation. I waited on the novel though, which was amazing.

Soho Press will be publishing ROCK PAPER TIGER in 2010. Congrats to Lisa!!


Robin L said...

That IS a dynamite query letter! And the book sounds amazing. Congratulations, Lisa! I'm looking forward to reading it!

Bane of Anubis said...

This irrational hate for LA needs to stop (I know you've got a voodoo doll of Robert Horry somewhere :) -- seriously, some of my Portland friends are drooling over the possibility of Odom leaving -- they don't care where he goes, just as long as he leaves...

As the venerable Mr. King said, 'why can't we all just get along?'

Other Lisa said...

I really do hate the Lakers!

Jen P said...

wow - awesome - thanks for sharing. Sounds like just my kind of read too. Go Lisa! Let us know when it's out - I'll request it in my local bookstore.

MeganRebekah said...

Now every query you receive for the next few weeks will close with
"I hate the Lakers"

Bane of Anubis said...

Despite that :), congrats Lisa.

Inmodify said...

Congrats Lisa!

Makasha Dorsey said...

Congrats Lisa! What a great query.

Well, if I ever work up the nerve to query Mr. Bransford I will not mention my disdain for the Lakers. I don't like basketball at all -- I live in a football house.

Marilyn Peake said...

I saw Lisa's announcement on Twitter that her book will be published. Congratulations once again, Lisa! I definitely plan to buy your book.

Fantastic query letter! Thanks so much for sharing it, Nathan.

DebraLSchubert said...

Excellent query. Thanks for sharing it, Nathan. And, best of luck with the book, Lisa!

WV: suffa - what we writers do while waiting to hear back on submissions.

Melanie Avila said...

That IS awesome! Wow! This sounds like something I'll really like.

Is it too late to add that I, too, hate the Lakers? It's true -- goes back to the late 80s series with the Pistons. Boo.

LOL @ MeganRebekah.

Mira said...

Thanks Nathan for posting a good example of a stellar letter. It's very helpful to see something done right.

Other Lisa, congratulations on your book - wow that's wonderful! Nathan congrats on finding an excellent client match and the book deal. In fact, congratulations all around! :-)

Tynisha Thompson said...

When I was a young junior lit agent, this is what we would've called query GOLD. Letters like this (which only came once in a blue moon) sent me straight to the phone to call up that author and secure them before another agent got a hold of them. Thanks for sharing. Definitely on my To Read list.

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for posting this. Not only is it a great example of a query letter, it's inspirational to see that debut novels do sell. Congrats, to both of you!

Can you share the general timeline for this, i.e. when did you receive the query, when did you sign Lisa as a client, and when did the ink dry on the publishing contract?

How much time passed between your completing the manuscript signing with Nathan?

Michelle Moran said...

Wow, congratulations, Lisa!!!! I really look forward to its debut!

Thermocline said...

How can you not like a query letter that uses "whacked-out" as a selling point?

Dana Fredsti said...

Congrats, Lisa! Those of us who've known you for a while are thrilled at the thought of seeing your work in published form. What a great match between agent and author!

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

nice. the query is pretty good. Now, I need to revise my own query :-/

Natalie said...

Congrats Lisa! Great letter—it's sounds like such an interesting book.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Excellent query! Hooray for you, Lisa!

Steve said...

Goooo Lisa!
Great query and sure to be a great novel!

I concur that Nathan will now get a thousand terrible queries all claiming to hate the Lakers. Even misplaced imitation is still flattery, I suppose...

Julie said...

"Rabbit hole of conspiracy" - So Cool!


I've been looking for an excuse to ask this and I think today's post is appropriate.

How do you feel about short quotations from a novel in the query letter?

Nathan Bransford said...


If it works it works, but most times it seems to interrupt the flow of the query. I already ask for the first five pages after the query, so it's usually best to focus on the description of the work in the query part.

bryngreenwood said...

To me, this letter also demonstrates two key lessons:
1. Targeting agents who want the kinds of things you write can save you a bunch of trouble. Lisa didn't send a ton of queries.

2. A good query letter is hard work. As I remember it, Lisa went through many iterations of this letter before this draft. She considered how the different elements fit together and how it read as a whole.

Other Lisa said...

Oh, hell ya. Many many drafts. The others got all the information in but they didn't capture the "voice" of the book the way this one seems to have.

Hello all, and thanks for your kind words and interest!

@Rick, I did do some revisions before signing with Nathan. That gave us both a chance to see what the working relationship would be like. I have to say that process went really well - overall I had a lot of fun with it!

Kristin Laughtin said...

That is a good query!

I always wondered how much personalization was too much, worried that dropping that I'm from Sacramento and thus love the Kings and hate the Lakers would seem too much like sucking up. Glad to see it can work, as I think/hope my MS will be to your taste when I'm ready to query.

Other Lisa said...

Oh, and I have to thank my writing group - several of whom just posted here (*ahem* Dana and Bryn) whose feedback was instrumental in helping me craft the query. They are all fabulous!

Word verification: dremolop. Um, what?

Julie said...


I have one more question, then I promise I'll go back to my real job.

I read in a very old blog that you were getting ready to read TWILIGHT.

I'm just wondering if you did read it and if you liked it?

VA said...

Lisa, can't wait to dive into this one. It sounds delightfully twisted. The letter is classic, perhaps you could illuminate us on your process.

As far the Lakers go, I don't have a dog in that race.

Judi Fennell said...

Taking a moment to comment for my friend Lisa (honest, I am NOT procrastinating my copy edits - really, I'm not!).

If you all think her query is magnificent, just wait until you read the book!

Nathan, you picked a gem. Congrats to both of you for finding a home for Rock Paper Tiger.

Leigh Lyons said...

Well, dang! i hate the Lakers too. If I'd known that was a qualifier, I'd have included it in my query when I queried a few months back XD!

susiej said...

Congrats to Lisa. I love the title.

And thanks for posting Nathan.

Whenever I have people read over my query, they say my sentences are way too long. I now see that agents are not only capable of comprehending long clauses, but actuall like them.

Other Lisa said...

Thanks, Judi! (who has a wonderful three book series out with Casablanca/Sourcebooks - well, the first one is out, the other two are on their way!).

VA, er, well, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I was heartily disgusted with my old query, and one night I stayed up really late with a huge glass of wine and completely rewrote it. And sent it off to Nathan.

nkrell said...

It looks like it's been said before, but HELLO! Truly a great query. Congratulations!

Stuart Neville said...

I am seldom bowled over by queries, but that was a zinger. Got me right at the off. Congratulations to Lisa, and also to Nathan for snapping it up.

And Lisa, we are now Soho Press stablemates, and my experience of working with all at Soho has been terrific so far - they may be an indie press, but they pack a mighty punch. You'll never find a more passionate or dedicated publisher, and you couldn't be in better hands.

Melissa Petreshock said...

Thank you so much for posting examples of good query letters. I'm in the editing and polishing phase of my novel and hoping to get it ready to query by the end of August/beginning of September. I'm having enough trouble writing the synopsis and am scared to death of the query letter.

FYI, you are the first agent I plan to query since you represent YA novels. Mine is a YA fantasy romance and if you're interested you can check out information and excerpts on my blog

I've been reading your blog since before I started actually writing it to become more informed of the industry. You have been such a tremendous resource for me. I look forward to gracing your inbox with my first query letter.

Reesha said...

I'm surprised. I would have thought that blatantly mentioning sports loyalties would turn off an agent since this is a business proposal and not a lovely conversation.
Nathan, can you tell me why that didn't turn you off? I mean, I thought we were supposed to be all business like. This is a business, right? No? So you mean I can talk about my favorite color in my query letter? Oh good! I was hoping to do that.
Do you like pink?

John Philipp said...

Nathan, thanks for the example. A most excellent query letter.

I look forward to Lisa's novel. She knows of what she speaks.

Kat Sheridan said...

Only Lisa could bring me out of lurk mode. I've long heard the legend of the wine-induced query letter, and it's a joy to finally see what was in it! Nathan, you are without a doubt the most intelligent, perceptive agent in existance (except for whatever agent I'm planning to query next, of course). I can hardly wait to get my hands on Lisa's book! Congrats to both of you for finding a home for this wonderful book.

Lisa, aren't you supposed to be copyediting?

And what's a "Laker"??

Verification word: waywty - way witty. What I think I am after a glass or two of wine.

Nathan Bransford said...


Hating the Lakers is both business and personal.

In all seriousness though, the agent/author relationship is a personal one and personal touches like that are perfectly fine. Lisa knew about my feelings toward the Lakers by reading my blog, and thus personalized accordingly.

Nathan Bransford said...


Yeah, I read TWILIGHT. I'm not exactly the target demographic but I can see why it was so popular.

Other Lisa said...

Howdy, Stuart! I've been following you on Twitter (does that make me sound like a stalker?) - am thrilled that we are label-mates! So far my experiences with Soho have been just as you described. They are wonderful to work with!

Many congratulations on your novel! I can't wait to read it!

Judi Fennell said...

responding to Kat: I, too, have heard tell of this mysterious wine-induced query letter and while I agree with you that Nathan is brilliant for picking up Lisa as a client, I'm going to have to say my agent is equally as brilliant. :) (Judi, who has not been drinking wine, but might start. It is, after all, 5:00 here on the east coast.)

re: Nathan's comment about the agent/author being personal and professional. I see no problem with Lisa mentioning her Lakers' dislike. As Nathan said, it shows Lisa had done her homework -that's what making the personal connection is all about. Yes, it's a business relationship and the agent, technically, works for the author, but that relationship has to be a harmonious one - personalities have to mesh. This was a common ground between them since Nathan has obviously mentioned it. Someone else may pick up on his comment on Twilight and refer to it in his/her query.

*back to editing Catch of a Lifetime

MattDel said...

Woo ... that query sounded good enough to be lifted wholesale for the jacket copy. I'm not even a fan of most mainstream fiction (Sci-Fi/Fantasy is my thing) and I can barely wait to see it in print.

So good on Lisa for making the query sing and good on Nathan for pouncing.

Oh, and by the way ... Baseball is king. Everything else is just details. ;)

word ver: longe -- a different kind of lozenge?

Bane of Anubis said...

"Yeah, I read TWILIGHT. I'm not exactly the target demographic but I can see why it was so popular."

As always, quite diplomatic ;)

Other Lisa said...

Er, about that wine...

In all seriousness, I think it's easy for us to get massively hung up on queries. How do you condense everything about a novel you've worked your butt off on and your life as it relates to your writing - down to a page? It's intimidating. Sometimes just letting go of all that and turning off the internal censor is the way to go. Whatever your own methods might be!

Julie said...


Thanks for answering. I saw that your always looking for YA, I was just trying to get an idea of what type of YA you might enjoy.

P.S I'm not writing about vampires, but my novel (Like TWILIGHT) is really "Touchy, feely" - emotionally more than physically; not sure if that was your taste.

Good info, Thanks!

Stuart Neville said...

Lisa, what's your Twitter name? Not sure if I'm following you on there...

Other Lisa said...

Stuart, it's @otherlisa

And for all you vampire fans - or vampire haters....

Buffy Versus Edward!!!

Julie said...

Other Lisa,

That video rocks! Um Edward wins, he can crush a van with his hands.

I don't think any amount of Buffy's handsprings and cartwheels will work on Edward

Besides he's practically made of stone, a wooden stake won't even leave a scratch on his perfect body.

Ok, I'm going to stop now, before my addiction is revealed!

"To each her own" I guess

Ken Coffman said...

I've read Rock Paper Tiger and I think it's marvelous, simply marvelous. I hope it makes a huge splash when it hits the market. I'm a curmugeon, but I'll grant the query letter has merit. It worked, didn't it? Awesome.

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. Loved the Buffy versus Edward. As discussed, Lisa, "What are you? Twelve?"

Buffy would kick his butt. So would Spike! Which reveals MY addiction, Julie. :-)

I've read RPT too and concur with Ken. It's an amazing novel. And I LIKE Lisa's wine-soaked query.

Mentioning one's favorite color in a query letter would be narcissistic and kinda stupid...unless the agent being queried expressed a marked preference for it, say, on his blog. Nathan, do you like pink?

readwriteandedit said...

Lisa's query is perfection. Like Lisa, the letter is literary, creative, and to the point. Thanks for sharing it, Nathan. I hope you both succeed beyond your imaginations with this one.

MattDel said...


You forget that Buffy laid the proverbial smackdown on several creatures (Glory for one) leagues more powerful than the sparkly Mr. Cullen.

/anti Twilight vampires rant.

Nathan Bransford said...



Bane of Anubis said...

Corporate suck up :p

Dana Fredsti said...

Heh. Your profile picture should have clued me in. :-)

Anonymous said...

I do't like queriesthat start with the pitch first. I think the 2nd para. should be 1st, and the first should be second.

Also, Idon't like when authors declare their own novels to be something, e.g. "'s a fast-paced novel." I'm sure you want it to be, but is it? that's like saying, it's a great novel, or it's sure to sell a bazillion copies.

But other than that, I think it's a good query.

Nathan Bransford said...


As someone who reads a whole lot of queries that begin "I'm writing you about a 75,000 word novel of suspense," trust me when I say it's refreshing when people just start with the pitch on occasion.

Also, I see "fast-paced" as a technical point than a value-judgment -- it's not something that could be conveyed by the query. It's really not the same thing as professing that one's novel is awesome, amazing, hysterical, etc.

Liz, de-lurking said...

Hi Nathan and Lisa! I just wanted to let you know that as an indie sales rep for Soho, I look forward to getting your book into stores around the Southeast. Sounds like a fascinating read - I look forward to seeing it on the list!

Jeffrey said...

I'd like top add my voice to the chorus of congratulations!

As I finish the last parts of my novel, I'd like to ask your opinion on something, Nathan. Does it make sense to use in the query the same voice/style in which the novel is written?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, it's helpful if the query can demonstrate the style of the novel.

hannah said...

Lisa, congratulations! Always great to hear when people are successful in these crazy times.

Karen Murphy said...

Wow - great letter. I can't wait to read the book!

Way to go (Other) Lisa!!!!

Mike said...

I hate the Lakers too. I also hate the Yankees. They represent all that is wrong with America.

I'm not even an agent and I may request a partial on this one.

Really, good luck with your book. A request for a partial is a beautiful moment in any aspiring authors life

Laura Martone said...

I'm late to the party (as is often the case), but I nevertheless would like to offer my own congratulations - to Lisa, for an engaging query and for an apparently more enticing novel (which I can't wait to read), and to Nathan, for your constant efforts to teach us about what works and what doesn't (at least from your humble agently perspective).

Being a major Whedonite, I also have to weigh in on this whole Buffy-versus-Edward debate. I'm sorry, but acrobatic Buffy (and sexy Spike, for that matter) could kick Sparkly Pants' petrified buns! So there.

And Jeffrey, on a more serious note... check out The Public Query Slushpile (an exceedingly helpful site where writers can post their queries and critique others as well) - there, you'll find that the queries that present the same voice/style as the novel often do stand out from the rest. They just GRAB you - in a way that a straight, professional letter doesn't.

Other Lisa said...

Yeah, capturing the novel's voice was where the wine came in.. ;)

Anonymous said...


I can see how it would be refreshing to get the pitch-first letter, although I don't think it's underused these days. I guess I just prefer the traditional business letter format where you state up front what it is you want, then go on to describe the details of the proposed deal.

As for the fast-paced thing, it SHOULD be a technical point, but these days the term is thrown around much too casually to basically mean, "not boring."

Skeptic said...

I always have felt good after reading this blog - but knowing that you too hate the Lakers... well, that just cements your status as "good people" in my opinion. ;)

Silicon Valley Diva said...

Congratulations Lisa! Sounds like a page turner.
How exciting and so nice to see a fellow reader of the blog sign with Nathan & get a book deal. ESPECIALLY in this market. You must be stellar indeed. Great news.

Robena Grant said...

Yes. Have to agree, this is a great query letter. The pacing was fast, exciting, so I believe the story will be equally so. Love it, love your word choices, you made every single one count. Congratulations, Lisa.
I'm looking forward to the read.

LCS249 said...

Thank you, Nathan, for sharing what works... especially with such a stellar example. I can see why the book would be "to die for."


ElanaJ said...

I love the query letter. The thing I like most about it is the balance between telling about the book and telling about the author. One doesn't overpower the other, as I've seen done in so many queries.

Thanks for sharing. :)

jrafferty said...

Nathan, thanks for publishing the query. I've heard the story behind this one from Lisa, but there's no substitute for the full letter and hearing what you liked about it. I'm really looking forward to reading Rock Paper Tiger and wish the book loads of success.

Chris Eldin said...

LOVED the query! Congrats all around!!

Jill Lynn said...

Great taste, Nathan.

And great query, Lisa. You showed the novel has a complex and original plot, and then backed it up with your impressive experience. Also, I thought the Lakers comment was genius. Not only did it show you "know" Nathan, it showed a lighter side to what is otherwise a very serious query. It gave you personality.

And, Lisa, I don't know if I've ever told you what a great title Rock Paper Tiger is. Love it! Congratulations again.

clindsay said...

Yup, pretty much a perfect query letter. Nice!

suzie said...

Congrats Lisa!

Kimberly Lynn said...


terryd said...

I smiled when I saw the announcement at Publishers Marketplace.

Congrats Lisa and Nathan!

Suzan Harden said...

Just adding my 'Atta Girl!' for Other Lisa. It's always terrific to hear one of the unwashed masses have broken through to publishing Nirvana.

Sandra said...

Well done, Lisa!
I'm just getting started in this business and it really helps to read what someone considers to be a winning query letter instead of descriptions of winning query letters. Thanks for posting this, Nathan.

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

I wish I could come up with catchy titles like that. Great play on words, idiom-style.

Mark said...

Good pitch. I had one that worked here too. Partial didn't but I got where I needed to be. Keep tabs on that sales rep who chimed in. Gonna need her. I grew up in Celtic country hating them. Became a Laker fan.

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

Nathan or Lisa,

I have a question. I notice a political tint to the query letter presented, namely in regards to Iraq. Is it generally wise to use politically charged words/phrases in a query letter at the risk of offending a prospective agent who may not agree with it? Or is this something that you should research and know what you can get away with before hand?


P.S. - Congratulations Lisa!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa, I'm glad to see Nathan living up to his rep of brilliance and signing you and recognizing your amazing talent.

I've had the pleasure of reading an excerpt or two and love it. I can't wait to read the whole thing, my friend!

Oh, and Nathan, be prepared, I fully intend to snag Lisa for my Over Coffee blog as soon as her book is out. She's a fascinating person, a wonderful friend, and a fabulous writer.

Congratulation to the both of you.

Leigh K C said...

Yep, that is stellar all right. Even though my book has nothing to do with China, performance artists or online gamers, will use this for my next round of agent queries but will change China to ... India. Will avoid mention of a team though as that sounds like a lot of research :)

Sharon M. Smith said...

Thank you so much for sharing her letter. I was surprised how short the letter was - although long enough to get our attention.

Other Lisa said...

@Mark Wise,

When I wrote my book, that was my prediction for Iraq. The Iraq war is an integral part of the book, so I really wanted to mention it, and also the sense that it wasn't going to be the triumphal march to victory that we'd been sold.

While I wouldn't say now that the war has been "lost," I stand by the assertion that it didn't turn out to be the cakewalk that our leaders promised us it would be, and that the consequences would continue to reverberate long after the troops came home, and not in a good way.

I don't consider this to be a political statement so much as a logical evaluation of the facts on the ground. But one of the many problems I've had with politics in recent years is the tendency to label realistic analyses as political judgments.

So, maybe this is just me being bull-headed, but it is such an important part of book that I guess i figured if an agent was offended by it, then he/she wasn't the right agent for me anyway.

Other Lisa said...

and Liz de-lurking - I'm new to all this stuff - if I can help you help me, let me know!

Andrew said...

7First off congratulations! I am jealous and envious, of course...=0)

The best thing about this query letter is that it shows how few people who are ready with advice (including me) know what they are talking about. I've seen so many query letters run through the mill on AQ connect and this would probably receive plenty of tips for revision (not the last two paragraphs, of course, just the plot one). First thing I thought when I read it was: what are the stakes? Why is the olympics or Iraq important? But what do I know? Nathan's an agent, ergo, his word is law, it's him I've got to impress, not me.

At least now I can look at me queries without worrying about too much of the advice I get back....=0)

Word verification - Drotro: A powerful Audi rally car with a cold

Ily said...

AWESOME query letter! Absolutely LOVED it, well done, Other Lisa. Congratulations and may the book hit No.1 by end of 2010, Weeeeeeee :)

Steph Damore said...

Nathan - as always thanks for the awesome example.

Lisa - CONGRATS! Your novel sounds amazing. I also loved your word usage in your query "rabbit hole of conspiracies" and "whacked-out travelogues" - Nice!

Re:Edward vs. Buffy - Edward. No explanation required. *sigh*

Lydia Sharp said...

That query letter "grabbed", and I would expect her book to do the same. Excellent example.

Congrats to both of you! And good luck to everyone who takes Nathan's advice to heart. We are lucky to have someone like him in the writing community, helping complete strangers to improve their chances of success.

caitmorgan said...

'Gratz, Lisa on a superb query and the good karma train it summoned--I'll make a point of ordering Rock Paper Tiger as soon as humanly possible, as it sounds right up my alley.

@MattDel--I, too, write mainly Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Do you belong to any online writing groups specific to those genres? Cheers.

WV: jaing. Bling gone horribly, horribly wrong?

Lynne Connolly said...

Loved the letter, only wish mine were as good.
How about "Manchester United Forever - Go Red Devils!" That rock your boat? Thought not. But they do.

JStantonChandler said...

Thank for posting this outstanding query, Nathan. I'm in the query writing process and I'm always on the hunt for help!

Congrats, Lisa! And great job on the query :)


Bill Mabe said...

"Many many drafts. The others got all the information in but they didn't capture the "voice" of the book the way this one seems to have."

Very helpful comment, Lisa. Congraulations!

Kim Rossi Stagliano said...

Fantastic from start to finish. Best of luck with the book.

Anonymous said...

If an author sets the book in the near future and assumes a particular political/economic outcome which doesn't happen is that a major problem with getting the book published?

Does the book become a type of SF alternative history? Will the book become dated soon after publishing?

Nathan Bransford said...


You're overthinking this.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Late to the party -

But - ROCK PAPER TIGER sounds like a timely, complex, fun book - just to bring America/Iraq and China together in the same book is phenomenal - I wonder if it represents a new direction for your list as an agent? I have a vague sense that it is (although I have many vague senses that turn out to be nothing).

Congratulations to author, agent and publisher.

Wanda B.

L. T. Host said...

I'm so glad to see a longer query on here, Nathan. After AOAQL 1, (and even 2) I was getting worried that short and succinct was the only way to go. While I'm trying my best to condense in general, it's a bit of a relief to see one with a little more stretching room!

Great job Lisa, and congrats :)

Other Lisa said...

Thanks, all of you, for your good wishes and compliments! I'm truly flattered.

Karen said...

I bet after reading this query, even Kobe Bryant would profess to hate the Lakers if he thought it would help.

But thank you for sharing this! As helpful as it is to see what NOT to do, it helps that much more to see what really works.

Amber said...

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, congratulations to both Lisa and Nathan! From the query letter itself, I may note on my 2010 calendar to run to the bookstore and grab a copy of Rock Paper Tiger.

Thanks for sharing this; I'm going to bookmark it for when I hit the agent-finding stage.

mkcbunny said...

Great query letter. Congratulations Other Lisa and Nathan!

Now I feel like I have to take the appropriate phrase "down a rabbit hole" out of my query letter. At least for Nathan, if not other agents, LOL.

And I just finished writing and tweaking my query letter this week, too!

Donna said...

WOW; Other Lisa. That's just awesome!!!!

And Nathan; Kudos for recognizing talent within your own house.

I love it when two people come together with such a perfect fit! I'm jealous, envious, and astounded. And totally supportive. I like knowing we knew you here, Lisa. Reading your query, I see where you totally fit into what what I'd expect Nathan to be interested in. Not a genre I follow; as a social worker I have a hard time agreeing with the political establishment; but I can say without doubt my 25 year old son would eat your novel for breakfast and disown me if I didn't send the recommendation his way.
Good luck girl. I hope you have a couple more like it up your creative sleeve so you continue on to the cover of Time magazine as the Author Of The Year.

Donna said...

OH, Julie; thanks for your question. I took a local writers course and the instructor told me that some of the best query lines started with a quote from your own novel. Uhm, I didn't like the woman, but finished the course because I did pay for it!!!

Judging by Nathan's reply, I'm thinking my first instinct by this self published novelist was correct. Thanks for bringing this issue up, and having the question answered.

DCS said...

Just so you know, Nathan: we WON the war in Iraq. Opinions to the contrary are just that: opinions, not fact.

sherrie_super said...

Now THAT'S a query letter. Congratulations, Lisa and Nathan, on the sale. I can't wait to see the book in print!

Other Lisa said...

I'm just going to quote Zhou Enlai, when asked by Henry Kissinger about the impact of the French Revolution:

"It's too early to say."

Nathan Bransford said...

Or, in the words of Kermit the Frog, "Sheesh."

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...

It looks better in italics.

Anonymous said...
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Nathan Bransford said...


The general policy around here is that constructive and polite criticism is completely fine -- everything else is deleted. Your comment was neither constructive nor polite. Hence that and everything else you're writing is getting deleted.

Is this really how you want to spend your afternoon? Time to go enjoy the sunshine or something.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about writing a new novel and sending it to you:

Here's my super fantastic query letter:

Joe Simpson, an ex-CIA agent, has found himself in China, working at an internet website - Joe's singular purpose: to read people's blog comments sections, and to delete any antagonistic comments that might crop up from anonymous sources. The word 'cheesy' in particular will be viewed as being highly offensive, and its usage might even necessitate an intervention from Interpol.

The novel will be titled:

"This Post Has Been Removed By A Blog Administrator."

It'll be to die for!

To die for!

Other Lisa said...

I'll be looking for that one in Publisher's Lunch any day now, Anon.

Anonymous said...

Yay! My comment didn't get deleted.

So it's one of two things: Either the so-called blog administrator has decided to allow me to speak, in the hope that it will shut me up.

Or he's in a meeting.

Anonymous said...

Hey, OtherLisa, I'll bet that you've developed a pretty thick skin. Right?

I mean, you must have by now?

Anyhow, did you find it offensive when I wrote that I thought your novel sounded a bit cheesy?

I mean, wait until it gets submitted on Amazon for The Great Unwashed to leave their comments - in all likelihood you're going to end up reading comments that will blister the hairs off a dog's back... it's inevitable... this is the internet.. people tend to say what they feel, and they're usually pretty brutal about it.

Obviously I haven't read your novel. I was just saying...

In fact, I kind of do want to read it now, just to find out if I'm wrong - I love being wrong about stuff.

Still, an opinion is an opinion, right, and if I were a novelist, like yourself, I think I would rather that people be allowed to express those opinions.

Ah, but maybe that's just me.

Other Lisa said...

@anon, I didn't actually see your comment. But people are going to say what they're going to say, and while I won't claim to have a rhino hide, I pretty much shrug it off. What else can you do?

It's hard for me to weigh opinions coming from "Anonymous" too heavily though.

Anonymous said...

Okay, then I'll apologize for having spoken my mind, and for not registering my name to post a comment.

Good luck with the novel.

Anonymous said...

There's one thing I'd like to add though - because I feel like I've ended up becoming the villain here, when all I did was post what I thought was a fairly harmless comment.

Stephen Spielberg, when he was waiting to film in the same studio in which Stanley Kubrick was presently filming, was shown an early version of 'The Shinning' by Kubrick himself.

At the end of the screening, Kubrick asked Spielberg what he thought of the movie, and although Spielberg tried to be complimentary in his remarks, Kubrick saw right through him:

"Well I can see that you didn't like my picture very much," Kubrick said to Spielberg. "So what was it that you didn't like about it?"

And Spielberg said: "The Jack Nicholson performance. I thought it was over-the-top. It was like Kabuki theatre almost in that it was just so exaggerated."

This is Stanley Kubrick we're talking about here - arguably, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

So was Spielberg's comment constructive here? No it wasn't. Not at all. Essentially, Spielberg was saying that Nicholson's performance sucked. And yes I realize that Kubrick had asked Spielberg to speak his mind, but I honestly don't see much difference there.

I suppose you could accuse me of presenting a two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right argument, but the point is that Spielberg was only speaking his mind, and of course Kubrick accepted such. Most great artists, I find, tend to take criticism pretty well - even when it's 'non-constructive criticism'.

Spielberg added that he had since seen 'The Shinning' 14 times, and that he now believed it to be a great picture.

Honestly, I wasn't trying to be antagonistic when I wrote my comment. I was just speaking my mind.

My mind, by the way, changes all the time.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that when I read this novel I might end up loving it.

I still believe that far too many people here are trying to 'butter up' the literary agent however - people should post their feelings, and not be so political. This section of the blog could be so much more, if only people were less inclined to suck up so much.

(And it's a shame too - because most literary agents don't expose themselves the way this guy does. When you expose yourself, though, you have to accept what comes along with it - or else it isn't exposure. Sorry, but I speak my mind, and I encourage others to do likewise.)

Nathan Bransford said...


The problem isn't that you expressed a contrary opinion, the problem is that you did so in a rude fashion and continued to be hostile, which I don't allow around here as it doesn't lend itself to productive conversation.

It's also condescending to suggest that authors need conditioning on the treatment they're going to receive from similarly rude people as yourself.

You may not like the rules around here, but you're welcome to start your own blog for the rude anonymous comments in the world. It will probably be very popular.

Anonymous said...

But I don't consider what I initially wrote to be rude - the stuff afterwards, yeah, it was pretty rude.

But again, my initial remark was just an opinion - and opinions are easily ignored.

And as I wrote earlier, you probably make this same point every time you reject a person's work... right? It's just your opinion that their work isn't worthy of publication. Do these people get angry with you - of course they do!

And of course they think that you're being rude - you've just rejected their work, which they think the world of.

I like what you're attempting to do with your blog though - it's nice to see an agent at least communicating with writers.

That said, I don't see too many people disagreeing with you here - it appears that most people are buttering you up, and that's just not realistic. My apologies if you have had discussions in this section of your blog - but that's not what I've witnessed in this thread, or the others you've posted recently.

Again, apologies if that has happened here.

The problem with engaging in interchange when it's being moderated, of course, is that the moderator gets to decide what's acceptable and what isn't - and that often destroys it, for the obvious reason that typically the moderator is unable to remain detached enough to moderate objectively.

Nathan Bransford said...


If I rejected manuscripts with the tone you used I'd have an angry mob with pitchforks outside my office.

There's a difference between expressing a contrary opinion constructively and expressing a contrary opinion rudely. If you stick around you'll see that people do disagree with my opinions, but they tend to do so in a way where everything is polite and above board.

But yeah, I'm the one with the delete button, so ultimately I decide what goes. I know full well that not everyone feels comfortable disagreeing with me publicly because they worry they may need to work with me someday and think I might take offense, which is why I allow anonymous comments. Sometimes though, people abuse the anonymity. It's not intended to be a cover so people can speak without propriety.

Anonymous said...

Okay, fair enough.

I'm not happy with some of the stuff that I wrote earlier anyhow.

And of course some of it should have been deleted right away. I mean, obviously.

I'm not going to withdraw all of my remarks, though - some of it I stand by.

And again, to repeat myself, it's damned nice to see a literary agent who is actively making himself available. This is incredibly refreshing, and I only wish that more agents would do likewise.

Anonymous said...

If I may step into your discussion with anonymous--

I agree with him in one particular and that is that I'm diabetic and often I have to quit reading the comments from fear of sugar shock! Too much kissing up.

On the other hand, he's dead wrong I feel personally that your rejections cause anger. More likey, since the worst to the best writers suffer insecurities of one kind or another and from what the world calls "super-sensitive" (and what kind of writers would we be if we weren't sensitive?), a rejection from you is more like being crushed. I know first hand. No matter how polite your rejection, it is still pretty much a form rejection. I'm sure not all but I'm speaking in generalities (worst, best).

So you needn't fear pitchforks--from humans at least.:)

Now a few lines about Lisa. She's a one in a trillion (a figure we're all very familiar with hearing about!)We were total strangers and I cried to her for help, and she was there immediately and now my query, once almost from hell, is almost as good as hers. Only my creds are blank where hers are over-whelming! :)

Whatever success she achieves, she'd not only earned but deserves a thousand times over. Still alive.
PS I had to use anonymous because i don't have a google acc't.

Anonymous said...

I want to apologize for my last posting's errors. I couldn't get the "preview" feature to work and so didn't see them until they posted.

Briefly, I think some on here do suck up; I think Nathan breaks more hearts than he angers; I deliberately didn't say how I got hold of Lisa so that I wouldn't have thanked her by siccing a hundred people wanting her help on her.

Anonymous said...

StillAlive, unpublished novelists do get angry when their work gets rejected.

Ernest Hemingway, when he received his first rejection in the mail, reread the letter twice, assuming there had been some kind of mistake.

Subsequent rejections caused him to 'pound his fists against the walls' and to 'throw furniture across the room'.

A female friend of mine, now published, once said to me that 'she didn't take the rejections very well'.

I asked her to clarify that.

She said that the day of receiving a rejection she would get so worked up that she would have to phone her mom - at which time they would have the same conversation they had had a dozen times: my friend would wonder if she was ever going to get published, and that maybe it was time to pack it in and to try something else. She said that on one occasion she got so angry that she was literally almost sick because of it!

Another friend of mine after having received a rejection letter for a submission that he felt had not even been read, sent that same agent a submission for E.M. Forster's "A Passage To India".

He had changed the title, of course, but he had submitted the first three chapters exactly as Forster had written them. The submission was rejected, with a note from the agent saying that 'he did not feel confident enough about this work to provide representation'. My friend said he got so mad about it that he had fantasies about phoning the agent up and telling him that he had just rejected one of the greatest novels ever written.

I wish I had the web-link for it, because I remember visiting a forum for writers one time in which somebody asked the question: do you get angry when you receive a rejection letter? The answers were laugh out loud funny. It was a great thread because it re-assured people that they weren't alone.

You need that in your life sometimes. Sometimes, when life is difficult, you just need to know that others are experiencing, or have experienced, the same thing. There's a wonderful moment in the movie 'Shadowlands' (about the life of the novelist C.S. Lewis) during which one of the characters says: "We read to know we're not alone."

I have no idea why that lessens the pain - but for some reason it does.

Yeah, writers get angry when their work gets rejected.

There's some hard evidence there.

The Goose.

(Also, is that what you have to do to register a name here - get a Google account? I think that I'm just going to sign my own name instead. I can't keep track of all these accounts. I can't even order from Amazon anymore, for that reason. Technology inconveniences me.)

bethanyintexas said...


First of all, congrats to Lisa on her book. It was a fun query to read.

Secondly, the more I read of your blog, the more I'm convinced my husband and you would get along (he hates the Lakers, as well).

Thirdly, thank you for writing your blog! It's been most helpful and interesting.

Anonymous said...

Agent likes query. Agent requests material. Agent uses query letter as example to the world. Agent rejects author.

Schizophrenic are we? :)

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Hi Nathan, can you elaborate on the categorization: 'mainstream novel' used in the query? Is this another way of saying literary fiction?

Alice said...

I am behind reading this but since I have...and you have no doubt been inundated with "I hate the Lakers" How about if I close with....

I don't give a flying crap about basketball or any other sport. Most are overpaid jocks with a secret life.

Thanks for your time.

Anonymous said...

you go girl!

Davina said...

Hi Nathan,

Greetings from London, England!

I have to say it was a real treat coming across your hilarious and informative blog last week - and one from a lit agent, too - haven't come across any from the ones in London yet!

I've almost finished my literary novel and have a question which I'd be eternally grateful if you were able to answer for me:

Is it possible to write a personalised query letter to an agent, yet also tell them that you're submitting to other agents...?

Many thanks for your help, and keep writing the awesome blog!


Michael Lamendola said...


Have been hooked on your blog since I found this entry in my online search for query answers, and there's one question I can't seem to find the answer to:

Are there any do's and don'ts for an E MAIL query, and the pages that follow?

Thanks for all the help.


Anonymous said...

Ok I got it.

To have Nathan respond to your query letter...You have to

1. Address him as Mr. Bransford
2. Get to the point immediately
3. Be a chick ;) cos he likes to respond only to queries from women ...LOL...just kidding.

Thanks for your useful post. It did give me some good ideas. BTW if you have some examples of good query letters for non-fiction work, please share them.

goingforit1 said...

I'm a new writer. Wonderful query. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Congratulations on getting your novel published as well.

tedt said...

Do I get extra points for liking the Lakers now that they stink?

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if a query letter for a non fiction book would be any different?

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