Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Previously Published Authors

You know the drill: Times are tough, some publishers are closing shop, lists are shrinking, blah blah I don't want to repeat it but I have to for purposes of this post blah.

As a result, many authors especially are looking for new homes, and as a result of that result, I'm seeing more and more queries from previously published authors.

Which is great for me! I want to hear from previously published authors.

But these queries often take this form:

Dear Agent,

I published this book, it got these reviews, etc. etc. etc.

I teach here, I have a blurb by this person, etc. etc. etc.

I am a professional writer, I am back in the game, looking for new representation, etc. etc. etc.

Did I mention my previous book that was most definitely published? Here's more about it etc. etc. etc.

And oh by the way I have a new project.

Previously Published Author

Often the new project is not even described, or if it is described, it's the barest of bare descriptions. Essentially: the author is banking on their credentials carrying the day. And by going about it this way they are either inadvertently or advertently projecting an attitude that they have it made in the shade.

Look: I wish you had it made in the shade. I really do. I wish a published book or two, especially a successful published book or two, were a guarantor of an agent taking you on or of your next book also finding publication. You're talented! You got published! I don't blame anyone for being proud of that and thinking they have an advantage.

But these days it's often easier to place a debut than it is a book by an author with a mixed sales track. A previously published book is not necessarily an advantage. It can be an advantage! But not always.

The reasons for this: chains basing their ordering on previous book sales even if the new book is different and/or much better, publishers wanting sure bets and shying away from mixed or quiet track records, and agents knowing all of this and following the publishers' lead because, well, they're the people we have to sell to and we can only sell what they will buy.

Now, before all previously published authors jump out the window (hopefully you're reading this on the ground floor anyway), let me just say that all hope is not lost. Far from it!

You may not have a full leg up, but you have some leg up. Like, to the knee at least. A publisher liked your writing enough to pay you for it. An agent's eyes are going to prick up when they see your query.

But it's so important to recognize that your previously published book isn't going to be what sells your new book. Instead, what's going to sell your new book is... well, your new book.



But focus the query on your next book. Instead of inadvertently projecting the belief that you have it made in the shade: know the reality of the situation. Focus on your terrific-sounding and actually-terrific new project. That's what's going to sell or not sell or attract an agent or not attract an agent. Project yourself as a writer on the rise.

You want to build off of your last book, but it's going to be the new book that does the building.


Elise Logan said...

I've been wondering about this. What if - hypothetically - an author published fiction under a pseudonym, but had a non-fiction piece they wanted to publish under their actual name. Is it necessary or even desirable to mention the fiction publications when seeking an agent?

Nathan Bransford said...


Definitely mention it, but it's another one of those situations where it won't necessarily be an advantage. Unless the author is a big name, when they jump to a completely different genre they're basically starting from scratch.

Ink said...

Nathan, I think you just scared a lot of unpublished writers, too. As if we all suddenly discovered that the Garden of Eden is full of Imperial Storm Troopers. And Jabba is trying to lick everyone.

Margaret Yang said...

@Ink, I find it reassuring. Publication doesn't guarantee a free pass. You still need a good book and compelling hook to interest an agent. Makes the playing field seem more even, somehow.

Thermocline said...


Hearing debut authors might have a leg up for any reason was pretty exciting. More like unpublished authors are a little short for a Stormtrooper but that just might keep them from being pummled by a rock throwing Ewok.

mtwyman said...

Oh man....imagine having your query letter go up against Laurell K. Hamilton...can anyone say *big SUCK*?

*All enthusiam has seeped out through the hole where my heart use to be.

Anonymous said...

Should we mention self-published work, regardless of sales?

Nathan Bransford said...


Yes, I'd mention it.

Chuck H. said...

You mean when I get published, I won't be set for life? Crap! Something else to worry about and the market tanking today and there goes my 401k! Damn the bad luck!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Ink, you made me laugh. The Garden of Eden full of Storm Troopers.

hahahahaha - yes!!

And Nathan, I'm surprised that authors would think they can get away with not talking about the current project? That's what you would have to go out and sell, and so you must love THAT, not their previous books. Or their name. Although I bet some authors have really cool names that are easy to love.

Like Page Bestseller. You'd really love her name, right?

Ink said...

You mean I have to work after I get published? What kind of a lottery is this?


de la O said...


Is it really a question of- my manuscript against other writer's manuscripts, or is it- hey if two good sell-able manuscripts came in from different writers you would rep them both. Do you have a limit to how many clients your willing to take on at one time?

Nathan Bransford said...

de la O-

No, I don't have a limit. It all comes down to whether I think I can sell a particular project and whether I think I'd be the best agent for it.

Marilyn Peake said...

It’s interesting to me how many big-name authors have had some of their recent books published by very tiny indie presses, earning only a couple hundred dollars on those books because their indie presses have very little distribution.

Last night, I read a fascinating interview with Audrey Niffenegger in the most recent issue of Writer’s Digest about how she broke lots of popular beliefs regarding how to make it as a published author, then signed with an agent after twenty or so rejections for THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. That book took her four-and-a-half years to write and was sold to an indie press that, since the time of the book’s publication, went from having about fourteen employees to having only three employees, despite the many copies of THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE that were sold! Her new book, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, took her about seven years to write and recently sold at auction to Scribner for a nearly $5 million advance. She said that she loved the indie press that had published her debut book, but felt that, with only three employees, they wouldn’t be able to handle all that her new book would require. Niffenegger’s also a visual artist, and some of her visual novels are also being published. She talked about how amazing that feels to her because, prior to the success of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, she had made ten copies of each of her visual novels herself and felt delighted when people read one of those ten copies and wrote to her about it. She also spent some time in artist colonies in the past and loved the experience. I personally took away from the article the idea that, if you love writing or creating any kind of art, you should just keep doing that, get better and better at it, hope to make money at it but realize that you can’t count on that.

Marilyn Peake said...

Nathan, I have a question about something you mentioned in your blog:

I have fourteen publications, primarily through indie press, and nineteen awards, including several won in competition against books from the big publishing houses. I’ve been torn about listing all my publications and awards and still trying to keep the word count of my query letter for my new science fiction novel manageable. As a result, I make brief reference to having had books published, listing some of my awards, and providing a link to my website. My new science fiction novel is complicated, reflecting the voices of several very different characters, and I want to devote at least a couple of paragraphs to summarizing the main themes of the novel. Do you have any advice?

Corey Schwartz said...

Thanks for posting on this (as I am someone in this situation)

Also, after reading this post-

I now see why you don't want an assistant going through your queries!

Nathan Bransford said...


I'd include a list of your books, maybe below your signature if you want to keep the focus on the book you're querying about, but I'd only include the very most important awards, if any.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thanks, Nathan. Hadn't thought about adding the books below my signature.

T. Anne said...

Sounds like a nice problem to have.

Arik Durfee said...

Well, I'm not previously published--I'd like to consider myself "future-published". But this post got me thinking about something. I've been working on this YA science fiction novel for a while now. I finished a full draft last December, but it was 190,000 words long. I'm on my fourth or fifth round of revisions now, and I've chopped it down to about 140. I'm to the point where cutting any more will actually start to damage the story instead of improving it, but I'm worried that at 140,000 words it will still be too long to sell.

So I've been toying with the idea of finishing this book in the next month or so and then shelving it while I work on a planned YA novel about a a fake gun threat in a junior high that gets out of control. This novel will be much shorter and (I hope) really relevant and publishable. My idea has been to try to get this next novel published and using its theoretical success (knock on wood) as a stepping stone to getting my big fat science-fiction novel published.

Is that completely backwards, or does it sound like a good strategy?

Anonymous said...

I had a memoir published by a major publisher, but it didn't sell well.

I have two more books almost finished: one is another memoir with a much stronger narrative, the other is a paranormal romance.

Which should I lead with?

Nathan Bransford said...


Personally I think you should focus on whichever one you're most passionate about. If it doesn't work it doesn't work, but at least you give it a shot. You can always try the other one next.

Etiquette Bitch said...

I'm with Margaret Yang. This post was reassuring. Kinda reminds me that, essentially, you always have to sell, sell, sell. (And work, work, work.) And go about it the right way.

Wendy C. Allen a.k.a. EelKat said...

WOW! When I'm submitting, I don't ever mention past books or even that I'm published before! I focus on the book at hand, looking for future contracts, not books past and fluffing them.

Besides, I publish with so many different pen names it wouldn't do me any good to point out "Hey, I published this book" because you'd look at it and go "Huh? But someone else's name is on it." :)

I agree with @Margaret-Yang Publication DOESN'T guarantee a free pass. And yes, you still need ANOTHER good book and compelling hook to interest an agent. That's why I don't focus on my past books, just on whatever the book I'm working on here and now.

Anita Saxena said...

Nathan your post reminds me of something that happened about four years ago...

I once talked to a Nameless, older published author (She published three or four novels between the 1970s-1990s). Nameless author gave me various advice:
1. Nameless told me that an agent wasn't necessary (which I completely don't agree with now that I've done my own research).

2. Nameless told me that a full MS isn't necessary. Just shoot the breeze with a few chapters and if you get a nibble then complete it.

3.Nameless also encouraged me to submit my first complete MS (which I now know wasn't or ever will be ready) to her old editor friend with the following letter:

Dear Editor,
Name less author recommended I send my YA to you. Thank you for your time.

And, not knowing anything at the time, I followed her advice and did exactly what Name less author told me to do. Of course it didn't work.

Name less author told me that was the way things were done back then. I've lost touch with name less author. But,I remember she was trying to get back into being published herself- without much success. But, perhaps it was just the way she was going about it. She was doing exactly what Nathan is saying NOT to do. But, she was just approaching the process the way that had worked for her in the past. It doesn't mean it was wrong for her back then. It worked. She was published.

It's just interesting to see how things change and why some of these pre-published authors may be confused.

Eric said...

But these days it's often easier to place a debut than it is a book by an author with a mixed sales track.



Laura Martone said...

Double amen to what Eric just said!

Laura Martone said...

Oh, and I should add... I think it's funny that, at this time of day, there are less than 30 comments here. It just goes to show you, Nathan, that your poll was right. Most of your commenting audience must consist of unpublished authors... who have no idea what to say today.

On the one hand, I think, "If only I had the problem of having been published already!" and, on the other hand, I repeat my earlier statement... "Amen!" to this blessed paragraph:

But these days it's often easier to place a debut than it is a book by an author with a mixed sales track. A previously published book is not necessarily an advantage. It can be an advantage! But not always.

P.S. Bryan, you cracked me up as usual. Are you implying that it would be a BAD thing for Jabba to be trying to lick everyone in the Garden of Eden?

Anonymous said...

But of course, you can always play games with names. Tanking Published Author can take a pseudonym and suddenly be Debut Author all over again. I've known a number of previously published authors who had to take pseudonyms to sell again. I'm sure their agents knew their real names,though. And I'm not sure how the agents presented their names to the publishers.

Nathan--how would you handle this?

Anonymous said...

Curious: How many of these previously published authors still had agents when they contacted you? Or had they dropped out and are now getting back in the game?

Rachel Fenton said...

"But these days it's often easier to place a debut than it is a book by an author with a mixed sales track"

Eric, I couldn't agree more!
We just take what we want to take! It's all good if we want it to be :)

Anonymous said...

Unless your past sales record is nothing but positive, I wouldn't mention ANY past books. Thahat doesn't mean lie and say this is your first book, it just means, all you have to say is "I'd like you to represent my new novel...BLAH about BLAHBLAHBLAH."

Also, keep in mind that poor sales records is the reason pseudomyms were invented!

The biggest advantage newbs have is that they have no track record. Soon as you hit that BookScan, you're a trackable statistic, baby, spreadsheet fodder for the econ whizkids who advise Acquisitoins on success odds of potential buys.

I notice a lot of former major house authors now being published by indie presses, some with decent budgets, but still, small houses.

The biggest rookie misconception is, once they sell that first book, they've made it! In reality, there's aa continnuum to be sustained. Sell the first book? Gret,. Important first step. But how about seeing that book actually published? Another huge step that not all contracted writers live to see. Then how bout selling a 2nd, and seeing that one published? Etc...Every single step is another minefield to pick your way through. Be careful out there, and have fun!

The Anonymizer

Anonymous said...

I think that's why series are so popular with authors these days, too. Once you work your way into the marketplace, no one wants to have to really work to get back in again, so if you can come up with a series concept and sell the first book, you might get lucky and be offered a multi-book contract after that. AND, you automatically know what you're going to write, so it can keep you in the biz for 2-3 years as long as #1 doesn't totally flop.


Anonymous said...

As a published author, I recognize that every new book is a new starting point, especially if your new book is in a different genre than your last.

Ink said...


You would be poorly cast as Princess Leia. You must show revulsion! Revulsion for Jabba's lascivious smoochies! Anything else will take you on the Path to the Dark Side...

Whirlochre said...

Past, present or future, it's a whirlwind of vim.

Autism Mom Rising said...

Wow! This blog is a treasury of great tips.

Laura Martone said...

Mmm... the Dark Side.

Forget Princess Leia, Bryan. I wanna be an Ewok. They're cuter.

Course, as long as we're dreaming... I'd really rather be ol' Ben Kenobi - McGregor or Guinness version, it doesn't matter. Hey, I'm not picky!

D. G. Hudson said...

Perhaps the reason there are fewer comments today is because this post makes perfect sense. What needs to be added?

I agree with Margaret Yang as well -- a more level competitive field suits me.

Laura Martone said...

Me too, D.G. Me, too.

Ink said...

I'd rather be Jeff Vader.

See clip for hilarity. (Note: Language Warning)

Ungrateful Writer said...

Goodness gracious. I can't imagine why anyone would find this post encouraging. It's a very, very sad statement on a writers' place in the publishing world.

First of all, editors and agent can have all kinds of failures and still hold their jobs. As a writer, on the other hand, one false move and you're toast. How many people are wildly sucessful right out of the gate? Why are writers held to such impossible standards? What happened to career building?

Take Dan Brown for instance. His editor stuck with him through several books with lackluster sales and then, surprise, suprise, he knocked it out of the ballpark.

Like any business, publishing takes a while to learn. Dan Brown figured it out and kudos to his editor and pub company who didn't dump him just cuz he was a slow starter.

And any agent who is queried by a published author is lucky indeed. They are getting a letter from a person who already knows the business, is a savvy marketer, knows how to take edits and is already been vetted by the publishing world. A published author is frequently miles ahead of the average person who queries an agent (not to diss unpublished authors but there are a LOT of dabblers out there and that's what I mean by "average."
And yes, if you're a published author, you do hope that agents will treat you a wee bit different from the dabblers, and be respectful of your accomplishments without saying with a sniff, "A debut author is easier to sell."

Aren't agents and editors with a track record treated differently than newbies? Why should it be so different for writers? Yes, I understand about the dreadful Bookscan obstacle but most writers are only too happy to take on a pen name.

And yes, debut authors are more exciting than "previously published authors." They are so grateful and they don't ask a lot of pesky questions. They are discoveries and therefore celebrated, that is until they have disappointing sales and are the summarily discarded.

There are a precious few handful of writers who have hit the big time on their first few times and as statistics bear out, more authors fail to earn out than don't. If you look at the backgrounds of most bestselling authors you will see a slow climb to the top, with many failures along the way. Thank goodness there were helped along by some editors and agents along the way taht understood and appreaited their worth.

Nathan Bransford said...


I agree with you. I wish publishers would stick with writers and that chains would order based on their guts rather than on how the previous book did. I just don't think it's fair to pin this on agents. We go to war with the industry we're given. Unfortunately I can't force a publisher to publish anyone's book.

Anonymous said...

Ungrateful sez:

"Take Dan Brown for instance. His editor stuck with him through several books with lackluster sales and then, surprise, suprise, he knocked it out of the ballpark."

Not true! In fact, Brown was dumped after book #3 only sold 10,000 copies (as did the 2 before that. He sold TDC to his new publisher (not sure if he switched agents or not). But, interestingly enough, TDC had been out almost a year with only 10,000 copies sold when it started to take off.

You are right, though, when you say that Brown really worked on "figuring out" the publishing industry. His book #1 Digital Fortress , was a straight technothriller. #2 was Angels & Demons, and the intro to character Robert Langdon, witha subject matter switch into religion and secret societies, although it still had tinges of the technothrller beginnings. Then for #3 he went back to the straight technothriller with Deception Point, which did not feature Langdon. Then he was dropped by his pub, wrote #4, The Da Vinci Code, which went back to Langdon and the religion-secret society subject matter. So he really tried different things, kept fine-tuning his formula and just did not give up.

Laura Martone said...

Ungrateful -

I hope my enthusiasm didn't offend you. It's not so much that I find this post encouraging... I mean, I hope to be a previously published author someday, so of course, I feel for those authors who have been unceremoniously dumped by publishers/agents with no imagination and no confidence. But, on the other hand, when, as an unpublished author, I constantly hear about the impossibility of getting noticed by the publishing industry, it's kind of refreshing to think that I might still have a chance to break through the barrier.

The publishing industry is, alas, not the only industry that lacks vision. Look at television. FOX is a great example - it cancels every new show that doesn't receive great ratings immediately! And yet consider one of its most famous shows - THE X-FILES - the show that helped to put FOX on the map, so to speak. If ratings had been an issue back then, there would be no Mulder and Scully today - the show took time to build a loyal fan base.

So, I'm in total agreement with you... it's just to nice to hear that a debut author has a chance - but no ill will is intended toward others. I'm not the sort of person that celebrates success at the expense of others.

Laura Martone said...

Hey, Bryan! Thanks for the laugh - that video was freakin' hilarious. I like Izzard, but the Lego figurines made his routine so much funnier!

Laurel said...

I'm just here for the Star Wars discussion.

Jude Hardin said...


Is being previously agented (for a different book, with an amicable split) an advantage? Is that something you would mention in a query, or after representation is offered?

Mira said...

This may be a difficult topic.

Before I start, Ink, that was hilarious.

And, most important, I now own an I-phone!!! Can you tell? Can you tell? Does my post seem more lovely than usual? That's because it is! Know why it's lovely than usual? Because I own an I-phone, that's why. Thanks for asking.

So, back to the topic, I think there may be very few posts today because this topic may be upsetting. It's upsetting to realize that your career could be damaged, not enhanced, by being published if you then have poor sales. It's discouraging, and even overwhelming. First you have to write the book, then find an agent, then find a publisher, then, on top of everything, the book has to sell or you basically have to start all over.

It totally sucks.

There are a few silver linings here, though, I think. As an I-phone owner (did you know they have a cheap one now? 99 bucks), I am now very organized, and I shall list the the silver linings:

Silver lining #1: this is very good news for debut authors. It's easier to break in than we probably realize. That's especially true since the blogs are allowing debut authors to network and meet agents in ways they couldn't previously. I also suspect agents and editors may think differently about the 'slush' pile nowadays, but I could be wrong about that.

Boy, this is going to be a long post. Good thing this is a lovely I-phone post.

Okay, Silver lining #2: Marketing. Although it burns me to pieces that the industry is dumping this on the writer, it does give the writer more tools to try to boost their own sales once they are published.

Okay, Silver lining #3: Nathan said he likes published writers.

Oh. And other agents probably do too. I liked what Nathan said about how an agent's eyes are going to prick up. And then, if your new project is terrific....

Okay, Silver lining #4: has nothing to do with the topic. But I'm so happy that Nathan doesn't have a limit to how many clients he is taking on. Yay! Huzzah! Oh happy day! It will be 2 years before I'm ready to descend upon him in full force, er, I mean query him. I've been trying to figure out how to stop him from filling up his client list before I can. So, all of my worries about how to finish grad school while serving time for a potential felony conviction are moot! Yay!

Well, I actually have more to say, but I'll stop here for now to go check out my lovely I-phone.

Mira said...

Okay, I was going to wait until someone else posted, but I'm too impatient.

The other thing I want to say is this: pick your project carefully. Don't rush to get published too early.

Don't write your book, go 'yipee', and race out to find an agent. With the wrong book, it may be better if you don't find one.

I think it's good to think very carefully: Will this book sell? Should I wait with this one and start with a more marketable first book? Can I get better, so I should write a few more books first?

I think we should not give up that special debut author status too easily!!!

Wait, wait, wait, until you're sure this is the one to start with.

I could be completely wrong, but this is the way I'm thinking about it.

I know what I want my debut book to be. I've thought about it and picked it. And I won't query until it's done, and I'm ready to go. That's my focus.

Laura Martone said...

Congrats, Mira. For the i-Phone, of course... and for surviving grad school thus far. Oh, and good luck with the felony thing. :-)

storyqueen said...

Aw, Nathan, as a previously published is a bit depressing.



Nathan Bransford said...

Actually anon@6:33, while Dan Brown has gone through multiple publishing houses his editor (Jason Kaufman) moved with him. So this was really truly one of those old-school publishing relationships where an editor really believed in an author and built him up through multiple books. It's both really admirable and a shame that it doesn't happen more often.

Nathan Bransford said...


I encourage authors to square things with their current agent before contacting me.

MBA Jenna said...

So the use of pen names has come up several times in this discussion.

I had thought pen names were mostly an author's attempt to shield his/her regular life from the fallout of their writing life, but now it sounds like they are being used as a marketing tactic.

Nathan, how do agents/other parts of the publishing industry think about pen names? Are they a normal part of business, a necessary evil? Does anyone feel duped when a previously published author adopts a pen name and is re-launched as a debut?

This is considered ethical? Doesn't anyone notice?

I've read that aside from the (rare) successful debut, most books are sold because the customer recognizes the author from previous work, which supports the career-building, stick-with-improving-under-one-name approach.

But maybe that's outdated now that sales numbers are so widely available and the chains are under financial pressure to order inventory based on projections (with the midlist therefore penalized for mediocre sales)?


Nathan Bransford said...

Re: pen names:

It's all case by case. Tough to generalize across different situations.

Anonymous said...

Debut authors rejoicing over their advantage over previously published authors with mixed sales records had better be prepared for their turn at "one and done." And since a lot of success is sheer luck, think about having your first effort be the one you're passionate about, the one you want the whole world to see, because you may not get another chance.

Hate to be anonymous for this one, but my debut novel, published by a struggling indie press, was a *spectacular* failure, and it's only because my editor loved my next manuscript that he gave me a second chance. The new one is doing much better and I hope through it to find an agent and a publisher with more marketing support.

Anonymous said...

Still, DB got dropped. It wasn't a perfect wait-it-out-thru-4-books situatton.

Mira said...

Laura, thanks! That was sweet. :)

Yes, good things are happening. I didn't jump off a building, so I can chalk this week up as successful.....except I can't get the I-phone to work. How do you turn this thing on?

Dumb I-phone.

You know, I'm realizing I'm glad Nathan turned down my first query. I would not want that to be my debut book.

Anonymous said...

Let's not get too crazy over the Debut Factor. It's important, but there are plenty of (genre) authors who just turn out a steady stream of midlisters without ever hitting one outta the park. Some of 'em have dayjobs, though.

Anonymous said...

It's real simple, kids:

Write stuff that doesn't suck!

Author Guy said...

Slightly different question - suppose you have some novels and short stories published by a small, independent, royalty-paying publisher. They aren't in any bookstores, and all sales are either web-based or achieved by the author/publisher at a variety of public events. What is the advantage/disadvantage in mentioning them in a query letter?

Author Guy said...

Most of your commenting audience must consist of unpublished authors... who have no idea what to say today.

Well, I have a day job and a new story out, so I just got around to reading this post.

Christine H said...

Anon said - "Should we mention self-published work, regardless of sales?"

Nathan said - "Yes, I'd mention it."

Really??? I thought you said the exact opposite a while back. That unless your sales were really good, or you had a credible explanation for why you self-pubbed (i.e. that it targeted a niche audience) that you *shouldn't* mention self-published works.

Can you elaborate on that? Or am I thinking of someone else?

Christine H said...

P.S. As an unpublished author, I don't find this post either depressing or encouraging. I take the point to be that each new book has to be sold on it's own merits, regardless of the author's past success.


Christine H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christine H said...

Laura ~ You are not unpublished! Stop saying that, you silly ninny. Do you have any idea how green I turn when I read that you are working on revisions for your publisher?

And can you imagine how cool it will be when your novel is done and sold and you can say, "Laura Martone, the well-known travel writer, takes you on an adventure of a different kind, deep into the world of Ruby Hollow..."

All I've written are lesson plans!

Anonymous said...

As the author of the query letter you mention (or something very much like it), I feel the need to play devil's advocate here. The object of the game is to get the agent to request a full, or at least a partial. To me, the query is designed to weed out non or hopeless or beginning writers. By throwing my credits up at the top, I have at least proven myself capable of meeting deadlines, working with editors, and completing a published (if not profitable) book (or books). I don't feel ending with only a sentence or two about the new project is arrogant. I'm sure you can tell within a sentence if a story or genre is something you might want to handle. The proof, of course, is in the writing of the book. But I've got to get the book into your hands, one way or another, before it can get to that.
(My latest round of seven queries, resulted, within two days, in requests for three fulls and a partial).

Anonymous said...

As a previously pubbed author (PPA) who is about to embark on the Great Agent Hunt, Nathan's observation (debut author easier than PPA) is no big surprise. Debut authors are like trophy wives, new and shiny and Could Be The Next Big Thing, while we PPAs ... well, we're the first wives club.

I am one of the few, the ashamed (as opposed to The Few, The Proud): PPA/FA -- previously pubbed, formerly agented.

I'm shaking in my boots about the prospect of querying again.

Laura Martone said...

Haha, Mira! You crack me up, girlfriend! That's exactly why I don't have an iPhone... I have a hard enough time with my laptop, reluctant techno-phobe that I am.

Glad that grad school hasn't pushed you over the edge yet... and that you can look at your query woes in a positive light. While I'm still determined to publish the same novel I briefly (and unsuccessfully) queried, I've learned a few lessons since then, and after addressing the ms's issues, I'll give it another go!

Laura Martone said...

Author Guy - I was only half-serious earlier. I just thought it was interesting that there were fewer comments than usual... Believe me, I know how busy we all are. Sometimes, I don't read Nathan's blog till really late at night.

Besides, after some thought, I think D.G. is right - there's little more to say re: this post. It's common sense. No matter an author's past successes (or not), it's still all about the present project.

Laura Martone said...

Christine - Thanks for the support... but I'm hardly "well-known" as a travel writer, though I'm working on it. I'm working on it!

When it comes to fiction, you and I are still in this boat together. Let's share a life jacket! :-)

Nathan Bransford said...


I wasn't referencing any one particular query - this is a very common occurrence.

Also I don't doubt that the method that you used is reasonably effective. Credentials are good for a reason, and like I said, I want to hear from previously published authors. If the query had the words "I am Michael Chabon," it doesn't really matter what the rest of the query says, I'll request it.

But all of those things that you mention (deadlines, editors, paid, etc.) can really be dispensed with in a line. And depending on the impressiveness of the credentials, you're probably going to get some requests. But I still think the query would be more effective if it focused on the new project.

And I'm sorry, I still feel that there is in fact a bit of arrogance in being coy about a new project and assuming an agent will request it just because an author is previously published. It presumes that the previous works are going to carry the day, when that's not always the way it works.

Anonymous said...

"To me, the query is designed to weed out non or hopeless or beginning writers."

Wow. How grand is that?

I guess it's how you look at things. I've always been under the impression the query letter was designed to sell new work and past experience is secondary.

I post regular comments here, but I'm posting anon today. I'm a published writer who has always believed you're only as good as your last book. And if you want to get better, you think forward instead of backward. If I were querying for a new agent, I'd be pushing the new book and playing down the old.

Nathan Bransford said...

Yeah, I'd also have to second anon on that. The point of the query isn't simply to weed out the "hopeless." I get way more good queries from good writers than I could reasonably request.

Nor should the goal of an author be to simply rack up the most possible number of manuscript requests. The point is to help the agent figure out if they would be the right fit. If a previously published author is completely coy about their next work they may well get some requests simply because they're published, but being vague means they're just making work for a lot of agents -- agents have to request it to even see what it is, when they might not have even been interested if they even knew what it is.

And that just doesn't do author or agent any good. Manuscript requests are not the be-all end-all. It's better that the people who request your work are excited to consider it because they know what it is rather than mildly annoyed that they have to request a partial to figure out what the project is about because of a vague query.

Nathan Bransford said...

christine h-

Did I? I think I usually tell people to mention self-published works in the query.

And also, for others who asked about when to mention a previous agent or previously published works, please don't forget about the When to Mention X to an Agent from the FAQ section.

Anonymous said...

I had a lot of success getting requests for my first post-published query letter by 1) telling the agent in one sentence why I was interested in them specifically; 2) describing the actual project (this was the whole letter, basically); 3) one sentence with name, publisher and year of my book w/major publisher 4) the platform I have/had to get a deal in the first place.

Worked like a charm.

Nathan Bransford said...

That's exactly the formula I would recommend.

Mira said...

I would like to announce that my new pseudonym is Michael Chabon.

In direct opposition to that statement, I would also like to announce that I am giving up trying to control this process. I love agent blogs; I learn so much from them. I feel extremely lucky as a new writer to have access to them and to agents.

But they do drive me nuts sometimes. They stir up so many feelings. I need to surrender. This is not a process I can control.

I know the first two books I want to write, and I've picked my first one. It will be ready in two years. I'll write the best darn book I can possibly write, and I'll then let go of the results, and submit it to agents.

Under the name Michael Chabon, of course. But other than that, I'm letting go.

Suzanne said...

Great information, and reassuring to know that no matter where you are in your career, you've got to keep the eye on the next book, not the last.

DCS said...

It seems to have worked for Ralph Nader, a previously published non-fiction author and celebrity. Some people have such popularity that they could write a novel about a ham sandwich and get it published.

Ink said...


That's "platform", a whole different kettle of fish.

Dana Fredsti said...

Hmmm, I came here looking for the week's publishing news/links and found this instead. Which is quite fortuitous 'cause this issue is a concern of mine! This is one less question I'll be asking tomorrow (ahem) during your guest speaker stint for Sisters in Crime Nor Cal (and if anyone is a Bay Area writer and interested in attending, please email me at for more details!), leaving room for OTHER people to ask questions. :-)

Kimberly Kincaid said...

As an unpublished writer, I'm actually not discouraged by this. I like that the playing field is level, even if it's a tough playing field.

If I were to be published (I'm kinda giggling just thinking about it), though, I'd want it to be based on the merit of my work rather than my name. That said, I think it makes sense to lead with the story in a query rather than credentials. Ultimately, an agent has to believe in and sell your *work*. Yes, your name may (especially if it's graced book covers before) be part of that, but for me it's a small part. There are only a handful of authors whose books I'll pick up just based on their name, and I suspect that none of them will have to look for new agents anytime soon (i.e., they're very, very popular). But perhaps that's me...

Oh! And since Mira already snatched up the pen name I was going to use, I'd like to furthermore be known as JK Rowling :)

Christine H said...

Well, Laura, (grinning sheepishly), you're the only one I know well, so... that makes you well-known to me.

Oh, and, uh, Rick Steves. I see him on TV a lot. ;o)

Anonymous said...

Stick to the standard Query Format no matter who you are:

1. into (want you to prepresent new book TITLE, compelted at X words
2. pitch
3. About you: Here's where you mention past credits if you feel they sold well enough or were critically acclaimed enough to be worth it
4. closing (inlcuding sample pages, look forward to hearing from you blahblhablhab)

No reason to deviate from this no matter who you are.

Remember: If you're in the position of needing to send out letters, you ain't all that!

Steve said...

Nathan Said =

"The reasons for this: chains basing their ordering on previous book sales even if the new book is different and/or much better, publishers wanting sure bets and shying away from mixed or quiet track records, and agents knowing all of this and following the publishers' lead because, well, they're the people we have to sell to and we can only sell what they will buy."

My question is whether a pseudonym is effective in combating this. Would an agent feel obligated to disclose the previously published name when representing the new project? And, should a previously published author who is trying to "re-debut" via a pseudonym disclose their previous publishing history to their prospective agent nonetheless? Could it be subject to confidentiality, like what you tell an attorney?

Just wondering,

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Yuck. I agree with Ink on the Stormtroopers. Ah well. I’ve got to continue chasing the dream, regardless of any possible future outcome.

liv said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Whitewolfzty said...

Great, so I published a book that did not do well. My publisher did little to promote it and being ,green as a gourd, new to the business I did not know what to expect. I have had quite a few readers that are anxiously awaiting the sequel but I am skeptical of finishing it. BTW if anyone else is interested it is called "Dying to Believe". Cheap shot but what the heck. I realize I am no 'King' or 'R.E. Howard' but I believe I have a talent. If there is someone out there willing to assist me it would be greatly appreciated.
Otherwise, it was worth a try.
I hope all of you writers are having better luck at this than I.

Whitewolfzty said...

Again, Great! The last post was from 2009, has the blog been abandoned?
Just my luck!

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