Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Be an Agent for a Day II: The Queries!

First off, thank you so much to the 150+ very intrepid souls who volunteered their queries and pages for public consumption and our sort-of-scientific test of the query process.

Here's how I whittled them down to five. I classified the queries loosely by genre (fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, etc. lumped together and romantic suspense, thriller, mystery, etc. lumped together), then checked to see which genre had the most entries. And yes indeed, YA Fantasy narrowly edged out mystery/suspense!

I then used the random number generator at to select the five entries.

As you read the queries, please remember the purpose of this experiment: you are thinking like an agent. You are not looking for the best query according to the rules of blogging agents or what you personally would choose to read in your spare time. You are looking for the query that you think will have the best written pages and that you think has the most potential of selling to a publisher. Your job depends, in fact, on looking past the query. (Hopefully the writers helped you with queries that reflect the pages, which is why we blogging agents spend so much time dispensing advice.)

Please be exceedingly, ridiculously, incredibly nice to the participants who so bravely offered their queries to science. If I see one anonymous commenter who comes in and is all, "Meh meh meh I don't like any of them mine's way better I'm so awesome because no one knows who I am" I will confiscate everyone's science kits and I mean it!!

Now then. There is a poll at the end of the post. Please vote for the query you would be most likely to request if you were an agent. If you subscribe by e-mail or in an RSS reader you will need to click through to see the poll, and e-mail subscribers, please do not e-mail me your votes.

Here are the queries!


Dear Agent for a Day,

Everything Dominic Taylor thought he knew about the universe was shattered when he followed his classmate through a door, and into another world. While trying to get home he is pulled into a war between man and myth that had been going on for centuries. He soon learns that the reasons behind the war are more complex than man’s fear of the supernatural. The only way he can return home is by finding what his deceased father’s research calls the Source, but no one could have guessed what he would find instead.

In the 70,000 words of I’m a Nobody Dominic struggles to find a place where he fits in, to rise above the crimes of the father he never met, and to come to terms with who, and what, he is.

I chose to submit this novel for your consideration after joining your blog. It’s been very helpful for preparing my manuscript and query letter, and I saw you represent most genres. Upon your request I am prepared to send the complete manuscript. This is my first novel.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my Novel.

Author #1



Dear Agent for a Day,

Presley O’Connor expects a memorable senior year. What she doesn’t expect is the letter that arrives on her eighteenth birthday with her mutilated senior picture and a wish for a happy last birthday.

A serial killer has chosen her for his sixth victim, but his presence is affecting more than just Presley. Reid Montgomery, a guy she had a massive crush on three years before, is having visions of her abduction and murder. Visions aren’t new to Reid. His family has been under a 400 year old spell that allows them to save others and to find their soul mates. Seeing her in the vision, he knows exactly why he must save her.

When the killer moves to kidnap Presley on Christmas Eve, Reid arrives just in time to save her. The love between Presley and Reid is immediate and powerful. Presley believes nothing will ever stand in the way of their happiness. Reid sees a different picture and as the killer escapes from jail determined to add her to his collection of victims, Reid is unable to stop him. This time saving Presley will take all Reid’s magic, love, and more.

My YA paranormal romance, I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY, is complete at 92,000 words. I am prepared to send a partial or full manuscript upon your request. Thank you for your time and consideration of my novel.

Author #2



Dear Agent for a Day,

Sixteen-year-old Maya Georgiou is a beautiful ocean nymph faced with an impossible decision. She must choose between sacrificing Nate, the only boy she’s ever cared about, to a Greek Goddess with insane demands - or take his place instead.

SHORELINE, complete at 65,000 words, follows Maya as she and her family move back to Bar Harbor, Maine to help the sickly marine life developing offshore. As they settle in the tiny town, Maya finds herself intrigued by the sullen (albeit gorgeous) waiter at the local resort.

After a brief, rocky start, Maya and Nate fall for each other, but the rest of Maya’s world deteriorates. Her attempts to cure the ailing ocean creatures continue to fail, all while her family schemes to destroy her love life. In a shocking revelation they disclose one final, horrific family secret. Maya is not just an ocean nymph. She is also a Siren and must make a deadly sacrifice to appease the Goddess Persephone.

Maya has only days to make her decision. Does she spare Nate by succumbing to the sickness that is literally drowning her alive? Or does she convince him to plunge into the ocean abyss where he will die to fulfill her ancestral obligations?

Although Shoreline is a standalone novel, I have outlined a sequel and have completed another young adult urban fantasy novel.

I freelance for several websites with an audience of teens and young adults and am a member of SCBWI and YALitChat. I’m published in non-fiction, with titles including The Everything Card Games Book and The Everything Lateral Thinking Puzzles Book.

Attached please find the first 30 pages, as requested.

Thank you in advance for your time,
Author #3



Dear Agent for a Day,

Sometimes you go looking for fate, hoping to find a path to greatness. Sometimes she breaks down your door with an apocalyptic grin and drags you out in the alley.

For Kayden Verus, it’s the latter. Fate blessed him with super powers: good looks, superior strength, a killer smile, and more confidence than a seventeen-year-old kid should have. He never realized that she’d come looking for payback.

His story begins with a simple fact: Phaedons exist. They are physical representations of life’s virtues and one of them was Kayden’s father. Upon learning this, he leaves his small town safety to find his true identity at the prestigious Summit High School.

Instead of fate though, he is greeted by mythical creatures called Shades trying to end his life. He is able to foil their murder attempt but he can’t stop them from dragging him into the middle of the ancient war between the Phaedons and the Diotriphe family that controls them.

Enter Ailia. There’s only one thing that can conquer a cocky young man with cosmetic super powers: a beautiful girl with actual super powers. Like all boys, he’s helpless. She captivates him at first site but her sadistic tendencies and unhinged nature might kill him long before he discovers which side she’s actually on.

Black Emeralds is complete at 105,000 words and is of the young adult genre.

I am a first time author with a business undergrad from Millikin University and an MBA from Washington University in St. Louis.

Thank you for your time.

Author #4



Dear Agent for a Day,

When faced with the grim prospect of another year of being the nicest, quietest girl in high school, Rebecca Rogers decides it's time to get wild. Sure, she's afraid of the dark, heights, big bugs, and cute guys, but she decides the key to coolness lies in overcoming her fears one at a time. She starts with heights. Unfortunately, the tree she chooses to climb turns out to be the tallest object on the highest hill in an expected thunder storm. Rebecca jumps to escape a lightning strike and falls into a fantastic new world.

Though she's pretty sure she must be lying in a hospital somewhere and experiencing the world's wildest coma-induced nightmare, she's soon facing monsters, handsome princes, and evil villains with diabolical plans to take over this very scary world. Can she save the hottie, defeat the baddie, and run like hell from everything else? Some people are born with courage - Rebecca is having it thrust upon her.

"Unreality Chick" is a fast and funny 50,000 word young adult fantasy novel. I am the author of [a variety of work-for-hire things] and this is my first original novel.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best Wishes,
Author #5


«Oldest   ‹Older   1 – 200 of 273   Newer›   Newest»
Sheila said...

You guys are awesome, thanks for sharing!

hannah said...

I'm not generally a fan of fantasy, so I was REALLY surprised by how much I like these queries. It was hard to choose! These all sound like great stories.

Saundra Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francis said...

Thank you guys for sharing your queries, it's awesome!

I voted for Black Emerald. All YA queries are of quality, but there's something spicy about it that made me like it more than the others.

"Sometimes you go looking for fate, hoping to find a path to greatness. Sometimes she breaks down your door with an apocalyptic grin and drags you out in the alley." is an awesome opening, caught my attention immediately.

Congrats on all the participants for being chosen, and writing great queries!

Saundra Mitchell said...

Man, I was really torn between BLACK EMERALDS and UNREALITY CHICK. The voices are SO there!

Phoebe said...

Ooh, this was hard. I LOVE Greek mythology, so I was very tempted to vote for Shoreline, but, in the end, I went with the one that seemed the most straight-forward and clear to me, which was Unreality Check. Really helps emphasize to me the importance of paring down your story to its most essential elements for your query.

Jaimie said...

SHORELINE's story was most interesting to me, but in the end I liked the organization and wit of UNREALITY CHICK.

Ben Carroll said...

they are all good, but I'M A NOBODY completely, utterly stands out for me. I don'tread the genre but would love to have a look at it.

It stands out to me so much so I'm really surprised by the voting so far. We'll see.

Steve Ulfelder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caledonia Lass said...

Geez, I am a fan of fantasy and it is difficult to choose. I don't think I would make it as an agent. :D

NipponBeck said...

All of the queries were great, but I chose UNREALITY CHICK - it sounded really cute and fun, and the voice was great.

Precision Grace said...

Although *I* personally would want to read Unreality Chick, I voted for Shoreline as the most likely to get publishing deal. 50k is a bit short for YA novel, they are over 120k these days, aren't they?

Lisa Green said...

Man it is HARD to be an agent!!! How do you do it?

This Is The Knew Me said...

Unreality Chick was an easy choice for me, but Black Emeralds opened really strong... I love that first line!

Mons said...

This is a fabulous science experiment!

Claire Dawn said...

Thanks for this contest, Nathan!

I'm still crying about how far I have to go. But congrats to the lucky 5! :)

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

YA fantasy isn't my genre, but I was impressed with these queries and would have chosen several of them to read more (notably I'M A NOBODY and SHORELINE). In the end, I went with UNREALITY CHICK because of the humor and the voice. The story just seemed really fresh.

Rachel Grant said...

If I were an agent and had a stack of 30 (or 300) queries to read I would probably read the first paragraph or two, then skim the rest to see if anything jumped out, and move on - which is basically what I did here.

The only one I read word for word was the last one because it captured my interest and kept me reading, plus it didn't bog down and lose me.

I think the others were well written, but they seemed to me to contain too much information.

Curious to know what others will think on this. My pitch paragraph could be too short.

hannah said...

Precision Grace--over 120K is definitely the exception to the rule. Most YA is shorter than that (though fantasy runs on the longer side, of course.) My first book sold at 43K, so there you go!

Chuck H. said...

Oh, the sadness, the heartbreak. I was not found worthy.

Anyway, I liked all the queries and had just about decided to vote for Shoreline when I reached Unreality Chick. The stupidity of climbing a lone tall tree on top of a hill in a thunderstorm aside, I liked the voice and the concept. It got my vote.

Thanks for sharing, y'all.

Andrea said...

Being an agent would be hard. I don't feel like I could make a good guess on any of these without seeing the actual writing.

'Shoreline' sounds the most intriguing to me, but that's not what I voted for. Is it always about what you can market? I mean, if you genuinely loved a book someone sent in, even if it wasn't super marketable, wouldn't you take it on anyway?

Melissa said...

Thanks to all the authors for being willing to share!

This isn't a genre I read, but my favorite query was UNREALITY CHICK. The voice was terrific, even if the word count is short.

Saundra Mitchell said...

Seconding Hannah, Precision Grace- my debut novel was 46k. My next novel sold at 50k.

Jane Steen said...

YA fantasy is a genre I'm only tangentially familiar with (my teenage daughters are fans) but I did enjoy reading those queries. I went for Unreality Chick because the way the query was written really did suggest that the novel will be "fast and funny". I'm a Nobody and I Would Have Loved You Anyway were strong contenders, though. Well done all three!

jjdebenedictis said...

Black Emeralds author, you have a l'il typo in a very strong query letter--it should be 'sight' not 'site'.

That said, I voted for yours despite reservations about the word count for YA. It sounds like such a great story! Good luck with it.

Nathan Bransford said...


Please check your e-mail.

scj said...

All of these are well written. My thoughts:

#1) The plot description is a little vague and I don't get a sense of what the stakes are. I think more details would help this stand out.

#2) Sounds like it could be interesting, but I'm not sure if this would stand out among other thriller/romance YAs. Maybe showing more of the characters personalities would help.

#3) Greek mythology might be a little overused lately, but the plot is well described, the stakes are laid out, and it seems like it'd have a lot of commercial appeal. Plus, it sounds like something I'd read. This got my vote!

#4) Sounds like it could be interesting, but the plot description is confusing and 105k words seems awfully long for YA. Not sure if this would stand out in the marketplace.

#5) I like the voice in this query and it sounds like the book could be a lot of fun. However, I think more details about what happens in this new world would make the description much strong, since right now the 2nd paragraph is very generic and I don't know what would make this book stand out.

Nathan, do we get to find out which one would get your vote and why?

Nathan Bransford said...


I'd rather not possibly influence the voting or weigh in directly, but I'll tell more in the Thursday wrapup.

Emily White said...

I chose Black Emeralds. Out of all the queries, I felt this one most got the gist of the story across. And though they all sounded very interesting, I could really see this one being enjoyed by both boys and girls.

wonderer said...

I had a hard time choosing between I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY and UNREALITY CHICK. Both did a great job of laying out the stakes and making the characters engaging without overloading the reader with info (though I would have liked to see a bit more about what happens to Rebecca on the other side of that portal). In the end, I chose I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY simply because it seemed more in line with today's market. But in a few months or next year, who knows?

Bane of Anubis said...

I'm w/ Josin... though partially b/c it's a bit sideways from my reading genres of choice

I like Emeralds opening, but it got a bit too esoteric for me after that.

The Alice in Wonderland update sounded interesting, but I wouldn't want to follow a character who gets her jollies by jumping out of trees in thunderstorms (a bit too much of the TSTL character for me), but were I to select one based on the query sample, I think this would be it.

The Serial Killer one started off nicely, but the genre twist to paranormal took me out of my comfort zone.

Same goes w/ the other 2 -- not my cuppa tea.

Thanks for sharing and putting yourselves out there.

MJR said...

These all sounded intriguing and I had a hard time picking one. I picked UNREALITY CHICK because who can resist a story about the quiet girl who suddenly has to save the world (esp if you were one of those quiet girls)? The word counts of some of the other novels seemed a bit too high for YA and I like that he/she has some writing credentials...

Project Savior said...

I think I broke your rules when I voted for I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY. I liked the concept and voted for it forgetting it was YA genre.
It was a fantasy I would read, and could get behind. But I'm not sure how it would do in the YA genre.

Michelle said...

If we entered this contest, is that the equivalent of querying you, or should we go through the regular channels?

Great queries, folks! The voices of both BLACK EMERALDS and UNREALITY CHICK are strong. I felt BLACK EMERALDS was stronger because of its specificity, but the humor of UNREALITY CHICK made it hard to choose. I did think that jumping out of a tree wasn't really "wild," but for this character, maybe it is! Both sound like good reads. Good luck to all of you brave people!

Nathan Bransford said...


Please please query through regular channels. I didn't read any of the queries save for the ones I ended up posting.

Jen Brubacher said...

Kudos to the brave writers who have posted their queries! And what a fascinating exercise.

Josin L. McQuein said...

There's nothing there :-(

But, I'll assume you took it down. Sorry, I didn't see a "deleted" notice in the posts so I thought it didn't go through.

(I'm sure the email will show up later. *kicks Yahoo*)

JDuncan said...

This was tough. The real question is what are the pubs looking for? Because of the varying desires from the different houses, it would be hard to narrow these down. Do I as the agent have a particular connection with any house for any particular type of story? So, I could only go with the one story I thought might be intriguing enough on the page, which was number one, which might be the least likely given its lack of romantic element.

Nathan Bransford said...


Sorry, was working quickly. I think you have some good constructive criticism, maybe just a bit more of a "sandwich" approach if you know what I mean. The e-mail problem may be on my end.

J.J. Bennett said...

I think I have years of work to do... I'm thankful mine wasn't posted.

WriterGirl said...

i chose "i would have loved you anyway" because i felt that i didn't get enough information from the other queries, they were too vague and more "book jackety" than query. Though some of them might have enticed me to pick up the book in a store i think for a query they need more detail? could be wrong of course

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks to the scientists who volunteered their specimens. Truly awesome.

Nathan, you really give excellent instructions. I immediately wanted to read I'm A Nobody, thought all were interesting, but the writing just was THERE on Unreality Chick - my agent-in-training vote.

These were randomly selected?

Holly said...

I voted for UNREALITY CHICK, but I would have spent the longest time at the bookstore with SHORELINE. All the stories look interesting, and my hat is off to everybody who entered (I was too chicken). Nathan, thanks for educating us once again.

Tracy said...


I thought they were all pretty decent queries, and a couple of the others had an even better voice than the one I chose. However, IWHLYA (I'm too lazy to type it out again) had the only story line that I found gripping.

J.J. Bennett said...

Writer Girl

I felt the same way.

Bobbye Terry said...

I voted for “I’m a Nobody,” but it was hard. I really liked “Black Emeralds,” because the opening is a great hook. Two things kept me from voting for it. First, it’s 105,000 words, which, to me, sounds too long for a YA fantasy. That has me wondering if it either needs to be more than one book or it has a lot of extraneous material, thus, slow pacing.

So, I went for “I’m a Nobody.” I think this could be stronger if the hook were better. Maybe something like, “Wormholes through time can appear deceptively like an ordinary door,” sort of Twilight Zone style. Or, “One day, the universe opened up and swallowed Dominic, spitting him out into another world.” Okay, so much for my try. I just think the opening could be stronger. A clue to why the war was going on would be helpful. But, I do like the idea of The Source and Dominic’s search for sense of self.

Anonymous said...
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treeoflife said...

Had to vote for I'm A Nobody. I wasn't convinced it'd be the best book of the bunch, however it looked to me like it had the most potential to be great, not just good. I would want to read the first few pages for sure.

Unreality Chick would have my second vote... this looks like someone who's voice matches their audience.

patlaff said...

I thought Black Emeralds was by far the strongest query, but I voted for Shoreline beacuse it seemed the most marketable. I was real surprised to see Unreality Chick ahead of the pack because I thought her use of hottie and baddie were too "cutsie" and if that's a reflection of the rest of the book, I'm not sure it would hold up under scrutiny.

TiffanyD said...

Anyway, just my $0.02, for what it's worth (which is not much).

I'M A NOBODY: the description of the events was a little too vague for me. I wanted to know a little of what is the Source? What does he find? I was not intrigued because it takes a little more detail to intrigue me.

I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY: Seems fine to me, but didn't 'move' me, and I think it's because the query seemed wordy to me.

SHORELINE: I was thrown by the sequencing in the letter. I thought the events in paragraph 1 had already happened when I started reading paragraph 2, which made me need to read the letter twice to get the storyline clear in my head. That makes me worry that I'd have the same experience when reading the manu (but maybe I won't; I guess we'll find out tomorrow, ha ha)!

BLACK EMERALDS: I wish the query would have gotten to the girl sooner. Is this novel primarily about identity, murder, or male-female relationships? The query leaves me wondering but I guess I'll find out tomorrow.

UNREALITY CHICK: Lays out very clearly 1. What's going on, and then 2. What changes, and then 3. What is probably going to result from the change (the timid girl becomes brave). I would hope that the novel follows along as clearly.

Sorry the comment is so long, but I figured I'd come out of lurkerdom in style!

Valerie said...

This was tougher than I thought it would be! I was slightly turned off by the portal in entry #1 an yet, my pick was entry #5 UNREALITY CHICK which also features a portal.

Overall, while all five stories sounded interesting, #5 felt the most put together and had the strongest voice which gave me hope that the writing would be just as good. Plus it's got humor which you don't see a lot of in fantasy these days so I think it could sell.

Sara said...

I'm another who isn't a fantasy fan, but I read YA novels. I also volunteer in the school book fairs, checking out the YA fiction, and what the kids are picking up. I could see Unreality Chick on the shelf there, and moving. Not only did the query have the best title and the most zap, the organization, sentence construction, and word choices gave me the most confidence in that author's writing.

Dara said...

These queries were great! I had a hard time deciding, but ultimately decided to go with UNREALITY CHECK. That one, to me, stood out more as to what would possibly sell as well as the author's voice standing out.

Anon @9:48, did you even read Nathan's post at all???

TiffanyD said...

And goodness, I forgot to say that I am looking forward to reading the actual pages from all the submissions tomorrow!

Dara said...

Well, then, forget the end of my last post :P Nathan's quick!

st. strim said...

UNREALITY CHICK, based mostly on the pub creds, although I am not-so-secretly delighted that we get to see pages from all five.

Melissa Gill said...

I'M A NOBODY really stood out for me, but they were all really good. That just seemed like more of something I'd enjoy reading myself.

Leah Petersen said...

I thought Black Emeralds sounded like the most promising story and the letter had a nice voice behind it.

That said, I cringed at the typos. Not. Good.

Suze said...

For me it was a toss-up between Black Emeralds and Unreality Chick. I loved the first paragraph of BE, but then the rest of the query lost me a little. UC was faster and more fun, but scarcer on the detail... I opted for UC - that's the one I'd most likely buy. I hope the pace of the first 30 is the same as the query.

Thanks, Nathan - this is such a valuable exercise, and thanks to the brave souls who put themselves out there!

Bandeau said...

Black Emerald had me from the first two lines, and that's a gripping thing in a query!

If I picked up a random book off a shelf and read the same description it would be coming home with me in an instant, and I'm not a fan of YA Fantasy. Really showed the author's writing style and stayed consistent throughout.

Mesmerix said...

I chose "Unreality Chick." First off, the title was awesome! Talk about high concept, the title itself tells me this is about a young girl, has fantasy elements, and is humorous. The query itself was pared down and straight to the point. It had voice and told me exactly what I'd be reading.

The other queries seemed to either leave too much unexplained or lack proper voice. "Unreality Chick" is right there showing you exactly what it's all about.

Margaret Yang said...

I can't wait to see sample pages.

WriterGirl said...

i'm surprised so many people are voting for unreality chick. I agree that it sounds interesting and i can see it on the book shelves but the query reads like a back cover blurb. i know what's going to happen in the first chapter but i've no idea what the rest of the book is going to be about!

Stephen said...

#2 - I Would Have Loved You Anyway

Josin L. McQuein said...

Okay, last try:

Standard portal to another dimension premise. You hint that he's a "what" as well as a who, but give no clue as to what the "what" might be or what kind of crimes his father committed.

I wanted to like the serial killer angle, but too many plot points spread too thin. I couldn't follow the flow of the story with any sense of flow. From the description, I'd think Reid was a banshee, but he's a guy, so it doesn't make sense to me.

The set-up is heavy on the ecology angle. You have a relatively light word count, so you might want to reword the query so it's more about your MC and less about the ailing sea life.

On the basis of voice alone, the first line of Black Emeralds is great.(But I thought Kayden was a girl's name at first glance ;-P) I think it's the "false start" that got me. You say "his story begins" in the 3rd paragraph, and then all the races packed into the 4th paragraph gets confusing.

I liked the voice here, too. It's light and funny, but I'm shaky on the whole "is it a dream or reality" premise. I'm concerned the reader will get invested in a story that's not really happening (because it's a dream).

Cyndy Aleo said...

I did like the voice of Unreality Chick, but the stopper for me was the length. That is an AWFUL lot of plot up there in the query for something that short, and, if I'm thinking like an agent, I don't want to be telling a potential client that he or she needs to add maybe 30 or 40K words to flesh it all out. I got the feeling that it would be rushed.

I Would Have Loved You Anyway seemed more like it was closer to done.

Maybe my way of thinking is wrong (and/or lazy), but if I have 400 queries waiting in my box along with a raft of clients I'm already representing, I want to go with the story that grabbed me but also wouldn't need massive revision.

Strictly business. Personally, I'd probably want to read Unreality Chick.

Ted Cross said...

I would have to go with #1 even though few others are. Yes, the plot sounds familiar, but it at least sounds like something that can sell in my opinion. Each of the other queries had something so egregious (in my opinion) that I was halted early on.

Mary McDonald said...

What I liked most about Unreality Chick was that not only did it have great voice and humor, but I think a lot of teens can relate to the main character, as far as her fears go. They'll see themselves in the title role, which, would hopefully equal lots of book sales.

Black Emerald also sounded like a great story, and the query well written, but I thought as far as mass appeal, Unreality Chick would be the winner.

Karen said...

It was definitely tough to choose. There were 2 that I would have liked to have selected.

John said...

I voted for #1 (NOBODY). #2 (I WOULD HAVE LOVED...) was close, however. #5 (UNREALITY) was too cutesy for my tastes.

I'd be interested to see the breakdown of votes by gender to see if there's a "cutesy" bias in the women. I suppose that's who you're really selling to since teeny-bopper girls are the fuel of success in a lot of YA.

Kathleen MacIver said...

It surprised me how 5 randomly selected queries were so good! Obviously Nathan's done an excellent job at teaching people how to write queries. :-)

After looking at the results, though, I'm very intrigued by how many people went with #5, seeing as it says virtually nothing about the actual plot past the first chapter. I guess that says something for voice, though...plenty of people will chose a book based on voice and not care (at that point) about whether the plot will hold up. And the voice on that is really good!

I'm A Nobody was good, but the grammar problems made me pause a tad too often. I am really curious to find out who and what he is, though!

I almost went with I Would Have Loved You Anyway. In fact, I think the only reason I didn't pick that one was how their love was "immediate and powerful" which just doesn't seem to jive with the fact that they already knew each other. It makes me wonder if the romance will be believable. The contrast of gifts and twists and the character's goals and quests really intrigued me, though. It's fantastic when a query hints at so much of the plot without giving spoilers! I'd still give this one a shot if I could pick two!

Shoreline just didn't interest me...probably because I feel like I know the whole story now. I know who she really is, so why read the first half of the book? I don't know the maybe I'd skip to the end to find out, and if it intrigues me enough, start at the beginning (or the middle) and see how she got there. Or maybe ocean stories just don't interest me. Sometimes it's hard to pin down why you're not interested, isn't it?

Black Emeralds is the one I voted for. Those first two sentences are fantastic! And the rest of the query follows up with enough elements to keep me intrigued. The guy's perfect, yet not perfect, and described in a way that makes me want to watch him get his due and then watch him grown and learn from it. I wish there was a hint as to what her super powers are, but there's enough to intrigue me. The only thing possibly against it is the length...but I'm intrigued enough to try it anyway.

Congrats, everyone, on great queries!

Matthew Rush said...

Wow thanks so much for having the courage to share these with us (the writers not you Nathan, though you are of course awesome in other ways). These are all great queries and each one sounds like an interesting premise for a story.

That being said I just learned something really interesting. Normally I would have read each query all the way through. Trying to think like an agent I admit I didn't read any of them all the way through (not trying to be an ass or pretending to be high and mighty, I just figure if it doesn't grab me right away ... agents are extremely busy).

I chose Black Emeralds because the voice came through with the most strength right off the bat.

This Is The Knew Me said...

I wonder if it would make a difference to all those who made comments about Black Emeralds being too long, to know that Twilight was originally 135,000 words. I don't know what it went to print at, but that's what it was when Meyer queried it.

Phyllis said...

I don't read YA, I don't read fantasy, and I don't understand why the two genres must be combined. I never thought I would say this, but I'm yearning for reality.

Still, thanks to the authors who were willing to expose their queries and partials to our cruel eyes.

#1 This is the one query where I think that the partial may turn out better than the query. The query is too general, and I found myself wishing for more detail to be able to judge.

#2 I'm over serial killers, I'm sorry, and I didn't find that the paranormal aspect helped this stand out. As for the query, I think it's not presented in its best form because it doesn't start with the protagonist, but with the intended victim, and she remained rather pale.

#3 Apart from the fact that I have difficulties placing a Greek nymph in Maine, I have a problem with the stakes. I find the dilemma, Maya faces rather drab, either she dies, or her lover does. I can't believe either that she can convince him to die for her if there wasn't something in it for him. I miss a silver lining.

#4 I voted for this one. It has voice, and with Alia, it has a sense of personal challenge that may make it stand out from the crowd. The spelling error "site" was a downer though, so was the word count and the wording "of the YA genre". It made me fear that the writing was a little verbose. Still, I had the greatest confidence in this one, and I'm looking forward to reading the partial.

#5 This one had the most intriguing character, and after the first three sentences, I thought I had felt I had sussed out the plot. She'd start with heights, move on to other phobias, mayhem ensues when the cute boys enter the story, and all ends well. I'd have loved to read that, but, alas, she plunges into a different world. I could believe Rebecca choosing the tree on the hill, but I couldn't buy into her doing so at the onset of a thunderstorm. Still, it came in a strong second.

Good luck to all the courageous authors for their projects!

Ellen said...

Oh dear, I was reeeally torn between Shoreline and Unreality Chick. I finally went with Shoreline, just because the concept struck me as original and I wanted to hear more. I did love the voice in Unreality Chick though!

Jason Black said...

Hard choice, because I didn't feel that any of them were particularly strong, but I went with Shoreline.

Why? Because I felt that it has the most inherent conflict (at least from what's evident in the query). Also, I liked the human-level nature of the conflict: the stakes are important to those two characters, but not particularly important to anybody else. They're personal stakes, and I like that. I'm tired of books that try to raise the stakes too high: epic fantasies where the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

That said, the rest of the query didn't really grab me. The query didn't do a good job of showing me that the story's many elements--the aquatic restoration element, the love story, the necessary sacrifice--are all related on some deep level. They feel very much cobbled together, as though the author drew those elements out of a hat and decided to put them all in the same book. I was hoping to see how Persephone's demand of a sacrifice relates to Maya's goal of restoring the harbor, to have some hint of why Persephone demands a sacrifice in the first place, why it just HAS to be Nate who gets sacrificed, et cetera. None of that was in the query, leading me to believe that the book as a whole won't have a harmonious feel to it.

I must say that the query for Black Emeralds was quite intriguing. I liked many elements of the premise: the hot-shot kid who's going to find out that everything that has made him such a hot-shot so far in his life isn't going to matter that much when things get serious. I like books that force a character to re-assess themselves and decide what they want to be deep down inside. However, I can't overlook that the author mistook "site" for "sight" in the query.

I liked the premise of Would Have Loved You Anyway, but the query made the girl sound too much like a stereotypical passive victim character, which again, I'm bored to death with. The query does not give any indication that she is making as much effort to save her own life as he is. I need to see hints of that in the query in order for me to believe that she'll be a sufficiently interesting character to base the novel around.

I loved the opening paragraph of Unreality Chick, too, but was very disappointed to find at the end of that paragraph that it's yet another alternate-world fantasy novel. I was so hoping that the book would take place in _this_ world, because she sounded like such an interesting character.

All in all, a pretty tough choice. Shoreline got my vote kind of by elimination, but as I say the query was still weak in other areas and I don't have the highest expectations for the pages themselves. Always hope to be surprised, of course, but there you go.

Anica Lewis said...

Thanks so much to everyone who shared for making this cool experiment possible!

I picked Shoreline. I'd like to see more YA paranormal romance in which a female character is the Dangerous Supernatural Creetyur rather than the Fragile Human, and "ocean nymph" is a Supernatural Creetyur that hasn't been done a lot already.

1. I found I'm Nobody interesting. I did think the query could use a bit more clarity as to what is going on - I'd love to have a better grasp on what "a war between man and myth" means. If there are gods/sphinxes/giants/centaurs/etc. running around, tell me that! Also, not sure why the last use of the word "novel" is capitalized.

2. Thought I Would Have Loved You Anyway seemed interesting, but wasn't clear on whose POV it was written in. Alternating, maybe? It would be nice to know. I suppose the sample pages will make it clearer.

4. I know it's been mentioned, but the site/sight typo in Black Emeralds threw me.

5. I almost picked Unreality Chick - liked the voice and the unlikely "nice girl" heroine - but thought it would be a hard sell at that length. Also, I thought the query could do with a little less of the first paragraph (setup before the fall) and a little more specificity in the second (what's going on in the other world). And the term "evil villains" kind of made my eye twitch. I love the sentence after that, though.

Alpha-Mom said...

Wow, this is terribly difficult. In the end I voted for I Would Have Loved You Anyway because I liked how vividly both of the protagonists came across in the query. But I also liked the fun voice in the Unreality Chick query, and if I could have requested another, I would have 'requested a partial' on that one as well.

Nic said...

Thanks for sharing guys. Awesome queries was hard to choose.

#1 I thought it was intriguing - interested in finding some of the details out. I felt i got a good idea of the plot.

#2 The actual concept isn't for me. I felt it was a bit wordy. Not quite sure on the plot, seems to be too much setup.

#3 i got pulled out of the query in paragraph 2/3 because you go from story to length and genre back to story.

#4 there is a great hook and i was feeling the hook but then i didn't get that the book was about what you hooked me with.

#5 its interesting. climbing a tree in a thunderstorm seemed a bit weird but then she jumps into this non-reality and i don't get a sense that she is trying to get home or wake up if she believes she is in a coma. A bit Life On Mars(Uk) but without the seeming confusing.

I chose #1 in the vote because i had a clearer sense of what the plot was and intrigued me.

Valerie L Smith said...

Thanks to all five for being the guinea pigs in Nathan's laboratory.

I chose Shoreline because of its strong writing and interesting storyline.

D. G. Hudson said...

I never read YA fantasy, nor do I write it, but these entries did pique my interest. The first, I'm a Nobody, intrigues me because it touches on the issue of inner struggle and a young man trying to find his place in reality via a fantasy universe.

It's something that I think could be sold based on the 'coming of age' angle. Epic struggles usually make for a good read. Good Luck to all those whose queries were chosen.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I felt like the first and last queries were a little vague, not specific enough. I voted for Shoreline.

Caroline Steele said...

Veeery interesting exercise. First of all apparently I have weird taste, which is no new information. But this is also a good exercise in figuring out what make a query *stand out*—not just from the crappy ones, but from the other good ones. Very educational.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Wow, tough choice! These are good queries.

Can I still be nice if I say that referring to humanity as "man" might put some agents off? I've seen editors complain about writers who do this.

I chose #4 because it looked like the writer knew how to get a story moving right away.

Livia said...

They all sound very interesting! I'd pick unreality chick -- love the voice and the humor.

Princess in Galoshes said...

These were all fun to read! Although since there were only five, I think I read them all more thoroughly than I would have if I was skimming through a pile of hundreds.

It was a tough call for me between I Would Have Loved You Anyway and Shoreline. I thought I Would Have Loved... will appeal to the angsty, my-soul-is-deep-and-sad Y/A crowd who like the romance novel-esque slightly overprotective paranormal father-figure. (You know, kind of like that Twlight book ya hear so much about.) ;-)

Ultimately, though, Shoreline got my vote because it seemed to have a great back story, along with some touches of Greek mythology and interesting tidbits about the Maine shoreline. Kind of reminded me of the way DaVinci Code was so successful with its mix of lore/fact/fiction. People do actually like to learn, and I think fiction novels are the perfect way to release those fascinating tidbits that the masses like to glom on to. That is what I'd HOPE for, from this novel, anyway. That's why I wanted to read more.

I also have a slight suspicion that there's going to be an up-and-coming trend for regionalized books, which was another reason I thought this book might have a good shot.

Patrice said...

Did you purposely put them in ascending order? It's so interesting that I found it more about voice (making me think I would love to read X thousands of words by this author, the query is so inviting) than about the plot.

It was hard to choose! I almost went for #4 (despite love at first "site" -- please do fix that before you submit this query, dear author) but the word length was too long. So I went for the short and quirky #5.

I love the imagination in these stories! Nymphs, phaetons, etc. Who knew there were all these mythical folks to bring to life in 2010?

Marilyn Peake said...

I'm going to come back later and read the queries. Just had to say that you are hilarious. When I read your statement, "If I see one anonymous commenter who comes in and is all, 'Meh meh meh I don't like any of them mine's way better I'm so awesome because no one knows who I am' I will confiscate everyone's science kits and I mean it!!", I had to chuckle. ROFLOL. That just made my day. :)

Nathan Bransford said...


No, I didn't consciously order them in any way - they're in reverse chronological order from when they came in because that's how they appeared in my inbox.

reader said...

I voted for Shoreline because there was mention of the Maine setting, and that alone made it stand out. So much of YA lit seems to take place in a vacuum -- in generic suburbia, spy schools, or cheerleading camps -- that anything with a realized setting I can ground myself in is always welcome.

Good luck to the participants!

Kathryn Packer Roberts said...

Really surprised at how much I liked ALL of these entries. Some more than others, but really good job all of you. Thanks for sharing.

I would have voted for entry #4, but the word count is too high. (A problem I am still working on in my own book). #5 interested me a lot, too, because of voice, but the word count was a little on the low side (boy I wish I had that problem! =)

So, #1 got my vote. I think it could have been slightly stronger (voice-wise), but I think the story sounds great and the word count is right on. So, there you have it! =)

Lisa R said...

I don't read any YA fantasy but these queries were great! It was hard to choose based on what I thought an agent would pick cause each one of the queries made me want to read the book! Well done and thanks to the writers for sharing their queries with us.

Emily Anderson said...

Thanks to the brave souls who posted their queries and work. #2 & #5 spoke to me the most and while #5 was a better query with a better sense of voice, I think #2 more marketable with the love story and thriller aspects.

E.J. Wesley said...

I will say that I submitted to this, and it took WAAAYYYY more courage on my part than it should have! (Was my first query letter. Ever!) I was so nervous, and it wasn't even a real submission! So, I'll first say to all of those who did enter, and especially to those who have their letters up for public dissection: You rock the block!

@ Nathan: Thanks for doing crazy stuff like this!

Now, as for my thoughts about the contestants:
#1) Cool idea. I don't know that I was sold on the "wandering through a door" thing (I can almost guarantee there's more to it), and I would have liked to have seen more about the protag's motivation, etc. (voice?).
#2) Another great idea, and well written (I thought). The story doesn't sound like a 'feel good' read, and at 92,000 words that could be a problem in YA. I bet the protag would/could add some fun to the story, but it (voice, again) didn't show in the letter.
#3) This sounds like a fun story! However, I felt as though I was being told everything step-by-step in the query, which would make me afraid that the writing in the entire story might be that way. (All telling, no showing, if that makes sense.)
#4) Nice hook! Also written well ... As I read through, the story seemed very complex (not bad, just complex); unfortunately, when I saw the word count it made me fear that it might be overly so.
#5) My vote. The story sounds crazy, but I had a very clear idea of who the protag is, and the potential zippiness of the story. When I saw they'd told the story in 50,000 words, I was sold. This one is going to be fast-paced and fun!

In the end, I thought they were all pretty great, but I had to pick just one. My gut says #5 would be the one to check out.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I chose Black Emeralds because the story felt different from stuff on the market and the writing inspired confidence in the pages.

Thanks, all!!

Emily Cross said...

I voted for #5 - I really liked this query, it made me laugh and the character seemed very relatable. if the novel is written in the same style I'd say your on to a winner.
I also think it would be appealing for it's marketed audience too.

Everyone's queries were brilliant though so thank you all for sharing :)

Terry Towery said...

My vote goes to UNREALITY CHICK because I thought the writer's voice came through loud and clear.

Also, did I miss something, or were *all* of the entries Young Adult? Surely there were some adult titles among the entries?

Krista V. said...

It was a close one between BLACK EMERALDS and UNREALITY CHICK for me. I thought the voice was a little stronger in BLACK EMERALDS, even though UNREALITY CHICK's query was tighter. Not surprised to see UNREALITY CHICK in the lead.

I'll be excited to see the pages tomorrow.

JohnO said...

Hail brave authors! SCJ and I seem to agree on a lot of points, so I'll just recap my brief thoughts:

1 - Might be good (I like the idea of a war between man and myth), but there wasn't enough for me to be sure. I felt the query needed more detail to make it stand out as unique.

2 - The set-up, love story and conflict are well laid out here, but what held me back was the antagonist, "a serial killer," which sounded like a stock character. If I knew more about what made the circumstances unique, I might have asked for pages.

3 - I went back and forth between 3 and 5. I liked the premise and the detail, though I don't know if it could sell after the success of The Lightning Thief.

4 - I liked some of this (especially "cosmetic super powers"), but what held me back was the protagonist's motivation. I know he gets dragged into a war and falls for the girl, but I wanted to know what he was looking to accomplish, and why.

5 - I agree with the commenter who said the second paragraph was generic, but there was good writing and voice, and I like the twist that the girl is saving the hottie instead of the other way around. That's why it got my vote.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Thanks to all 150 who offered up your work for scrutiny.

Acting as though I were an agent, I looked for reasons to reject the manuscripts and in finding one, moved on.

The reasons were small, but telling: an errant comma where none should have been. Words that should have been hyphenated but were not. A phrase that sounded clunky to my ear.

Only one made it through that gauntlet and got my vote. I'm looking forward to reading the 30 pages.

Danielle said...

I voted for UNREALITY CHICK because the plot came through the most clearly. I could see where it was headed more than the others. It was a hard choice.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Thanks to all the submitters for offering up their queries for us to take a gander.

H.C.Reignoir said...

All five of the query letters show promise and I would gladly read the pages attached, but if I had to chose one from just the query (no pages, no synopsis, no nothing), it would be the Unreality Chick.
The writer seems confident in her (i suppose the writer is a she) work and she presents it in a fun and interesting way that sounds promising.

And just to prove that I'm not agent material, chances are that I would request partials from all of the above, just to satisfy my curiosity.

David said...

I chose #1, because it seems to have the clearest, strongest writing and sense of focus. Though #5 was a close second.

Scott said...

I picked Shoreline for the big, fat hook (some pun intended). The central conceit had metaphorical depth, and the plot didn't sprawl too much––although the somewhat lengthy query did get cloudy in parts. Still, I understood enough to glean that the writer had a firm grip on his or her vision. Then, in the end, some publishing experience was revealed.

Chibi said...

I really enjoyed reading the query letters. Each of them was so different and it was difficult to choose one. I could pick out a flaw or two in each one, so it made me realize the value of having an extremely carefully worded query AND story, and for that, I thank those brave enough to submit their queries.

Anonymous said...

I just realized how jacked up this is. We're all saying "could we sell that?" But we as neophytes don't know the market, what certain editors want, what's hot right now. I mean, I can pick a query that I really like, but, that doesnt mean I would be able to sell it since I dont know the market.

Nathan Bransford said...


In case the image of The Brain from Pinky and the Brain is not a tipoff, this is not meant to be an exact science.

Polenth said...

For marketability, Shoreline stood out. The query wasn't the strongest of the bunch, but it's got a solid paranormal romance theme and the ocean nymph angle. It struck me as appealing to the same market as Twilight, without trying to recreate that story.

Kristi Helvig said...

If I were an agent, I'd pick #5.

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Wow, this was a tough choice and if this is a random sampling of what you received, the competition out there is really stiff. The story line in I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY seemed the most compelling and widely saleable to me, but there were a couple things in the query that made me wonder how well-written the manuscript would be. With UNREALITY CHICK, I didn't have to wonder--the voice was there and she had experience. The manuscript may be a little short for YA though, and the writing will have to be very good to overcome the coincidence factor of the inciting incident. Still, UNREALITY CHICK got my vote because it felt fresher than the others.

Guinevere said...

I voted for I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY, as it seemed to have the most compelling plotline to me and the writing in the query was quite strong.

Keith Popely said...

I'm surprised by how little I feel I know about each one of these stories. If I were an agent, I would definitely want sample pages included with queries. I was intrigued by at least two of these queries, but I would not feel comfortable contacting the author and requesting a partial until I'd read a few pages to get at least a basic feel for the writing talent and story tone.

Margo said...

Like others who mentioned they don't read in this (sub)genre, I was very impressed with the quality of the random sample. Much appreciation to our brave guinea writers.

I wrestled my choices down to SHORELINE and BLACK EMERALDS. Both queries looked to me like they had good voice and a plot with great potential, which I have always thought were important for marketability (but what do I know?). I want to choose both! I picked one and then wanted to change my mind and then wanted to change back and then...

Cherie Henderson said...

Thanks to all who contributed!

I wanted more plot info from all five queries. That plus length led me to rule out I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY and BLACK EMERALD. (I'm way out of my genre, so I could be off base here.)

In I'M A NOBODY, I got lost with "he is pulled into a war between man and myth."

Like many others, the voice in UNREALITY CHICK stood out, and I liked this line: "Some people are born with courage - Rebecca is having it thrust upon her." But again I didn't have a good idea about the plot.

The SHORELINE plot confused me a little but it seemed fresh, and I think the environmental overtones might be a marketing plus.

Thanks again to all!

Rick Daley said...

I picked number 4 because I liked the pacing and the voice.

Crystal said...

I can't figure out where the official place to vote is, but I say I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAYS is the best AGENT pick. Very sellable.

Other Lisa said...

I think I would trust my decision more if I had a page or two of the actual writing to go with it!

Anonymous said...
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Patti Struble said...

Thinking like an agent - just for today. All of these were really great and I appreciate the brave souls who submitted them. I picked #4 for a few reasons. At a recent conference I learned how untapped the YA market is for boys & that made it all the more inviting & saleable. Plus the pitch para drew me in immediately. I would expect the writing to follow along at this pace. I also thought the author had a very definitve plan that I could envision from the query; that added to the depth for me. But, that said, it was not an easy decision by any means. Nicely done all.

Rena Rossner said...

I voted for Shoreline because it was just different than everything else out there. Of course, it depends on the story and the voice and the writing because these things could go either way but even though the other queries were all extremely well written and they all grabbed me and I thought they would all make good YA novels - this one was one that said "pick me! I'm different!"

Thanks Nathan! This is awesome! Do we get to hear which one YOU would have picked???

Anonymous said...

I voted for, I would have loved you anyway, but I really like Unreality Chick too.

Thinking as an agent, some of the others needed to be cleaned up. I don't believe they were ready for submission to an agent.

Mira said...

I liked every query here, and commend the authors for their bravery! Yay, authors!

I definitely would have gone from the query letter to the pages for all of these.

I choose #5- I liked the confidence, the pacing, the voice and the story is one I've seen work in YA. I have a weakness for humor - and YA fantasy/humor is hard to do well, but when it is done well - it can really hit big.

But it was a hard call - I very much liked the strong male protagonist voice in #1 - I think that could sell to male teens. I liked the action/fantasy combo in #2 - unusual in fantasy YA. #3 hinted at the type of beautiful mermaid fantasy that I think YA girls love, and #4 has some very funny lines in it - I'd want to see the pages for a better look.

However, my secret vote goes to the picture on the post. Who could ever imagine anything so wonderful?

Artists are scary.

Good luck to all the entrants, and I'm looking forward to reading the pages!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone who submitted their work so Nathan could host this great experiment.
Here are my thoughts on the queries.

I’M A NOBODY – this caught my imagination and I voted for it. It just made me want to know more and I think that is partially because of the premise and partially because the writing is good. The first paragraph was clear and flowed very well. I think there could have been more detail – what is this war about? A little about “what” he is, etc. But the bottom line is the query caught my interest and I want to know more so I would request a partial. A few things for the author – you don’t mention the genre of the book in your query and you should as in - the 70,000 words of my Young Adult Fantasy novel I’m a Nobody Dominic…. Also you don’t mention the MCs age and you should get that information across somehow. Another thing your last paragraph is a bit choppy. Even though you are not talking about your story here you still need to write well. Finally you don’t have to mention that you are prepared to send the MS, it’s understood.

I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY – My problem with this query is I am not sure who the MC is. Is this Presley’s story or Reid’s? So that is problematical for me right off. And if it’s both I didn’t get that either or else it just didn’t work for me. Another problem is you say that Reid is unable to stop the killer then you say that stopping the killer will take all of Reid’s magic ….. So which is it? Can he stop the killer or not? As in the first query you don’t have to mention that you are prepared to send the full MS – it’s understood. I think this story has some good ideas but POV issues and some lack of clarity would stop me from requesting a partial.

SHORELINE – I thought the story here was somewhat intriguing but I didn’t like the writing. I felt the query didn’t flow well and there was too much hyperbole for me. Too many adjectives for me: beautiful ocean nymph, insane demands, only boy she ever cared about, sullen waiter, shocking revelation, literally drowning. I found the writing of the query didn’t draw me in it pushed me away. There was much telling and not enough showing for my tastes.

BLACK EMERALDS – I found this query confusing. What is it about? Ok Kayden learns that he is a what? His father is a Phaedon, but what is he? What is Summit High? Aside from being prestigious. Why do the Shades want to end his life? Who are the Diotriphe family? What exactly is Kayden’s goal? Aside from keeping out of the way of all the people who want to kill him for reasons unexplained. Also just FYI your MBA and business BA aren’t writing credentials and don’t belong in a query letter. It’s ok not to have writing credentials but mentioning inapplicable credentials marks you as being unknowledgeable about the publishing business. While there are some interesting ideas here I don’t get a clear story of a MC who has a goal and the opposition to that goal.

UNREALITY CHICK – I can see why this query is getting the most votes. It has a great voice. I like that she is going to overcome her fears one at a time. How methodical, it demonstrates her basic personality which is definitely not wild. I think there is a lack of specifics as to plot and the author might want to fix that with some elaboration, but I would request a partial on this. I did not vote for it because I just found I’M A NOBODY more to my taste. Also the sentence “I am the author of a [variety of work for hire things]” what does that mean? I don’t even know if these things are valid credentials unless you spell out what they are.

Nick said...

I'm A Nobody - Not bad sounding, but I feel like it's missing something. I do like it, but that missing something has me worried a bit. If there's something missing from the query I can't place my finger on, will there be a phantom something in the story? Maybe not. But maybe so. We'll see how the others stack up in comparison.
I Would Have Loved You Anyway - This, I thought, was really solid. I'm just going in order with these initial thoughts, but of the first two, this one earns my vote. I think the length might be a bit high, but it may be more than justified.
Shoreline - By all accounts a good query, but I'm just not feeling anything here. There's nothing about the writing to make me say, "Yeah, I can sell this." As with the first one, this isn't necessarily indicative of the book, and I sincerely hope it isn't, but on a query basis I would probably pass on it. Operative word being probably. I could see times when I would roll with it, but again, going in order here, number two is just stronger to me, and I'm afraid I can only pick one.
Black Emeralds - Again, just not feeling this one. And as with #2, the length is a bit worrying to me, but I would still attach a "maybe it's justifiable" stamp. Going on the basis of this though, gotta say pass.
Unreality Chick - Another very solid one. This is another one I would love to request. But it hasn't completely bowled #2 out. And being that I can only select one, that means I've got some thinking to do.

First of all, I just want to say sorry to the other authors. I hate to sound like a form rejection, but this whole thing is very subjective, and for me, your queries just didn't have the right kind of "oomph". In fact I'm certain I'm going to see people have voted for you when I finally enter a vote.

But now we have the conundrum of Query 2 and Query 5. I really, really like both of these. Were I a real agent, I would totally request more from both of you, but I can only pick one winner here. This was hard for me. I actually went back and re-read the queries a couple of times, and I took some time off to allow my mind to defrag a bit while I processed the information at hand, and even re-read them again when I came back. And I still couldn't choose a clear winner. By all accounts, Query 5 is far more gripping, but there's just something about Query 2 that has me going for it. In the end, I waffled a bit longer, re-read them again, and in the end, being limited to only one option, I know which one I'm going for.

I voted for Unreality Chick.

Valerie Sloan said...

All of these caught my eye. I love a good YA fantasy and I wish everyone good luck when they send out the queries. I'll give a quick opinion on each.

1. I really liked this. The first sentence grabbed my attention and pulled me in. My only problem here was how vague the 'man and myth' war was portrayed. Is there a way you could add something specific so that the stakes are clearly defined? I'm very interested in Dominic's struggle with who he is and to know what his father did, but without the knowledge of the war and how that ties in I don't find the query as strong as it could be.

2. Love how you open and I'm dying to figure out *why* the killer chose Presley. You had a very strong query going here. My only trip up here was the mention of the spell on Reid's family and why he has to save her - I didn't draw the connection the first time I read it. But at the same time, I love how you contrasted how Presley and Reid see their love, it draws a nice connection to the characters.

3. I really liked this. You have a very strong query here and I was really torn between this one and number 5 on which one to vote for.

4. Killer opening. I loved the voice here it just sprang off the screen! "His story begins" threw me a little and I found the Phaedons and Ditrophe family a little confusing - but maybe I'm not familiar with the mythology. Still, for that opening alone I'm still dying to read this.

5. This is the one I picked for the one I'd request. The voice ws clear and I instantly related to the main character. The writing was crisp, clean, I didn't find myself confused at all.I was a little sketchy with the plot, what happens in the new world? But you gave just enough hints to keep my curiosity.

All five of you showed incredible courage submiting these and I just wanted to give each of you a thanks. I learned a lot from reading through these and heck, I'd read every one of them.

Polenth said...

Anon, I suspect the [variety of work for hire things] thing is for this exercise only. If the project details were there, you could work out who the author was. Which is great in the real world, but not for this exercise.

Anonymous said...

I don't like how they all start right with the pitch. Without the context of the contest, the agent wouldn't even what what genre they're in before reading the pitch. Not the best move if you ask me.

There should be an introductory paragraph up front and then start with the pitch.

Carolin Seidenkranz said...

Congrats everyone! =) Those are lovely queries.

I went for UNREALITY CHICK. The first sentence really captured me and set the tone for the novel. I love the voice throughout. I think it's a good length and gives us the essentials, while still leaving enough open to be curious about. Aside from that it has the right length for the genre and is really unique.

ryan field said...

This was hard. I kept reading them and they all looked good to me.

I wound up voting for the one I thought I'd be able shop the best.

K.L. Brady said...

#1 – Wasn’t crazy about the query because I thought there were too many vague ideas. “Everything Dominic thought he knew about the universe was shattered…” Well, what did he think he knew? I’d have started there if it were my query. Kinda went downhill from there for me.
#2 – Confused the heck out of me in the last paragraph. Did he save her or not save her? I dunno. If I have to think that hard about it, the writing will probably be confusing too. Plus, at 92,000 words seemed a bit too long for YA.
#3—Shoreline. I dunno. I’d like to know how you’re gonna convince a guy to “plunge into the ocean abyss where he will die to fulfill HER ancestral obligations.” This book probably should’ve been one page long. “No!”
#4—I loved the query. The first paragraph pulled me right in. Plot was interesting and different. The problem I had was the length. 105K words for YA. Maybe for JK Rowling. Not so much for a debut novelist. I’d suggest cutting at least 30K and then resubmitting. Might require a lot of editing to pare it down. This would’ve been my first choice if it had been shorter. I might request pages to get a sample of the writing style. Very very close second.
#5 – Loved the voice. The plot seemed fun for YA. The length was good. Well-written query. I’d definitely want to see pages from this one.

Rachel Grant said...

Question for Nathan on the 'head to head' aspect of this experiment:

In general, I don't think of queries as competing against each other - as in, two equally strong queries = two requests. But I also know you are busy and each request will generate more work for you in reading and follow up.

If you've read a stack of queries and already requested partials from a few, are you then less likely to request on a query that intrigues you but something is off?

Say that same query arrived on a different day, and all the other queries that day clearly don't work for you. Would the query you rejected on Monday be more viable on Thursday?

Unrepentant Escapist said...

(*Lurker comes out of hiding*)

These are all a lot better than I expected...

I voted for #5 because, in my view, voice can make up for a lot of flaws and #5 had vivacity. When I was YA-aged, I loved to watch Sailor Moon because she was a clumsy, cowardly hero, like I would be if I were a magical school girl, so it caught that resonance for me. That said, I would have liked to see a little more detail about the plot. I wonder if the lingo (hotties and baddies) is current, but it works for me.

#1 was just a little too vague (What event leads to the shattering of his perceptions? What specific myths?) and there's a comma error in the first sentence. I like the title, though. And the crimes of his father sounds intriguing.

#2 There's just too many threads going on in this query for me. Some of your verbs ("affecting" doesn't really capture the pain inherent in dreaming about the bloody death of a loved one) were a turn-off. And I got confused at the end...if he can't stop the serial killer, doesn't Presley die? But I did like the title and I thought it had an interesting concept. Different than the supernatural YA I've seen, which usually involves Fairies or the Undead.

#3 This was my second favorite. I really liked the ecological bent to it. I liked the layers of multiple conflict you spelled out, and I think your writing shows the most clarity. I haven't seen a book from the point of view of a siren before so this could be good. However, I wonder how you're going to gain sympathy from the YA heavy romance crowd with a heroine who's even considering luring her ONE TRUE LOVE to his death. I also wonder why the 400-year-old debt has to suddenly be paid off now...But I would definitely flip through the first few pages.

#4 I don't know...for me the first two lines don't sparkle. They have voice, but they lack specificity. They could apply to just about any hero's journey novel out there. I'd rather see you begin with the meat of the story. But I like superheroes, and I wonder if they might not be "the next big thing" after Zombies. (WHY? Why did it have to be Zombies???) I don't know what Phaedrons are though, and you lose me when you announce they're real without telling me what they are other than "physical representations of life's virtues." Then there are Shades and Diotrope Family and...well, in the end, I'm not sure what the main conflict is or what the stakes are. And what's the difference between cosmetic superpowers and real superpowers?

But it sounds like it could be a really interesting idea. I look forward to seeing pages.

(*Lurker ducks back out of sight...*)

Nathan Bransford said...


You're right that this contest imposes a sort of artificial limit on the number of queries people can request. In real life I could request all five or none. And no, I don't have a limit on the number I request in any given time period. So queries don't compete against each other.

This is just to get people to create an informal ranking system and commit to an opinion, so that we can compare it to how things shake out when people read the actual pages.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Is this a pitch contest, or a query letter contest? These are pitches, not really proper queries.

Jane Steen said...

I'm confused by Anonymous. What's a "proper query"? These seem pretty typical of the queries I see posted on agent sites. Nobody said they had to be GREAT queries. The point, as I understand it, is to see queries from an agent's point of view and thus learn what we, as aspiring authors, should be doing.

Steve Axelrod said...

This sample really shows the value of the whole query system. When you see a fresh voice, among the mass of pitches, it just dazzles you, like the windy sunshine when you step out of a stuffy house. I would ask for pages on "Unreality Chick", and read them eagerly.

Rebekkah said...

I voted for Unreality Chick - I was torn between that and Shoreline, both of which are out of my normal genres. I thought that Black Emerald seemed a little too generic, especially in its opening. I was a bit confused by some of the details of I'm a Nobody, so it lost my vote because of clarity. And I Would Have Loved You Anyway just didn't grab my attention the way the others did.
Still, a great job to everybody who entered! I didn't have the guts to.

Anonymous said...

What I mean is that a proper query is a business letter that states why youre writing up front, not just a novel description.

Where's the inro-"I;m seeking representation for my x word, TITLE, genre"...I'm querying you in particular because...

You know, the real letter part of it. These queries all start of with (what they hope will end up as) jacket copy. How can you frame the pitch before you even know what the genre is? And what do you want? Yeah, if you're querying an agent, it's obvious you want representation, but still, state it up front. Be clear. To me, these are really not good business letters.

Jane said...

I was really impressed by the quality here. I voted for Unreality Chick, because it gave me the strongest sense of voice and character. But if I were really an Agent for a Day, I probably would have requested Shoreline as well.

Nathan Bransford said...


Well, since there's no agent to personalize for, only an agent for a day, that eliminates one potential opener. And some agents recommend getting straight to the action and not bothering with "I'm writing regarding my such and such novel of such and such length" because agents see those openers a million times a day.

I think there's more than one way to tackle the opener and no right or wrong way. But just because these get straight to the action doesn't mean they're pitches instead of queries. They all have all the necessary info.

Tori said...

I have not read very much YA Fantasy...but these were all great! It was SO HARD to decide, but I based my decision on not what I thought would have a good audience, what queries actually had a YA voice and so on.

The first query was interesting, but there was not enough there to make me believe it would be popular enough, although it seems like the writing would be fun.

Same with the second, but again, I didn't feel like enough people would be interested.

I ended up being torn between the third and the fifth query, and let me tell you, it was very hard to do. Both sounded fun and original, both had characters I instantly felt would be liked among many people, mainly teenaged girls. I thought both would sell quite well.

Because we can only choose one, I went with number five, but I really liked number three too!

Good luck to each of these authors!

Becca said...

I really like Reality Chick. It sounds like a fairy tell gone wrong, the right way.

Amy said...

To all of the writers: THANK YOU for sharing your work. And I am really REALLY looking forward to seeing pages. I love YA fantasy, so I love all of the ideas.

But I have still been unable to vote. I can see already how my vote changes based upon:
-- am I an agent who auto-rejects based upon word-count?
-- do I have such a full load that I need to see a perfect query & pages, or do I have a lot of time to work on revisions with an author?
-- personal preference. I suspect the story I most want to read is not the one I will vote for based on Nathan's instructions. Seems funny to me.

I hope to finally decide on a vote later today. But I'll need to write down my own thoughts about each query and see what pans out when we see the pages. Already, I know I'd be an agent who would need to request sample pages with the query!

VERY interesting experiment, Nathan -- thank you!!

robin said...

The combination of humor and intriguing storyline got my vote -- #5! I hope the pages are just as intriguing :)

Anonymous said...

Well okay, I agree, nathan, that there is more than 1 way ti skin a cat and that when it comes right down to it, there are no rules. But I jusst thought it odd that every single one of the entries went straight to the pitch, as if it were a pure pitch contest.

Aimee said...

I really liked Unreality Check. It was my second choice to I Would Have Loved You Anyway, but I chose IWHLYA because UC was too short for my taste. Oh... well it is young adult... So Unreality Check was my favorite, I guess. I usually do not like fantasy that much, but I would definitely read those two!

Tori said...

I should mention that SHORELINE is the one I would want to pick up in a bookstore. I LOVE stories with Greek Mythology involved. Ultimately though I didn't think it would have quite as much of an audience as UNREALITY CHICK.

Nathan, what do you do when you really love a project, really love the voice but don't think it would sell as well? Would you choose it anyway or go with what would appeal to others more?

If you would go with what you love...I change my vote to SHORELINE! But I already know that Agents must think about what sells as well, and that is why I chose UNREALITY CHICK.

But, you never know, tomorrow I might change my mind. :D Depends on what the partials look like.

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't trend-watch. I go with the books that resonate with me.

JustineDell said...

I am not a fan nor writer of fantasy, but I have to say these are pretty good! I had a hard time choosing, but Unreality Chick got my vote. Totally awesome voice. I can totally see this turning into a super quirky YA. I was concerned about the length...its seems short for YA, but hey - the query (and story) and voice was top notch. Alittle vague, but I have a feeling the story underneath is pretty cool.

Good job to everyone! Man, am I suddenly glad I'm not an agent.


Amy said...

Anon @ 1:39 --
They may have all just gone to the "Query Shark School of Query-Writing." That's how I do my queries, too.

William said...

I would request them all to be honest. They were all good. I especially thought Shoreline and Unreality Chick were good. I think Black Emerald has a lot of appeal, but it reminds me of Percy Jackson and I don't like Percy Jackson. Of course I bet reading the first page of this could change my mind, as reading the first page of Percy Jackson almost made me put down the book.

I can't wait to read the first 30 pages!

Southpaw said...

This was interesting the books I would read for pleasure where different from the one I picked "to represent as an agent. It is all about the query. The style, mood, even mechanical errors all swayed my choice.

Thaddeus Glapp said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thaddeus Glapp said...

The problem is that a good book won't necessarily have a good query. If I listed my top five favorite books they'd pretty well all have boring, cliched queries.

Example: "The life story of the barber of Port William, as told by himself." That's the tag line for one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Are you telling me that's going to work in a query?

I have no doubt that a query can weed out writers that have no business querying to begin with but a query letter is no indication at all of whether a book is any good.

I'm glad I'll never have to write another.

Claire King said...

Not at all my cup of tea, genre-wise but what a brilliant exercise. Thanks to the brave query writers.
I found myself debating over all the queries logically until I got to the last one. Something about the query seemed so confident and natural that my gut feeling straight away was 'this is the one'.
I wonder, is gut feeling a good indicator when looking for something marketable? Maybe not, but I'd request pages for Unreality Chick because that's the one I would most like to devote precious time to reading.

David said...

This little experiment has taught me a lot....... being an agent sucks, being a writer sucks, writing queries sucks, when I get done typing this I am chunking this keyboard out the door.... hey wait, this could be an idea for a GREAT story,...... a stressed out writer/agent/and award winning blogger from San Fransisco goes postal

Anonymous said...


Question, how often do you find yourself not in love with the query or storyline, but you love the title? Or you find a wee verb tense problem with the query, but you think the story might be worthy? I chose "I Would Have Loved You Anyway" for these reasons.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Not my science kit!

Reading these, I was surprised how much little things, like a missing comma, affected my judgment. I wouldn't necessarily not request any of these because of missing commas, but I found I had to be interested enough in the story to not mind the prospect of a manuscript full of missing commas.

I really liked the second query, but I wished the third paragraph had been condensed. At first I questioned whether it was needed at all, then decided it would have been more powerful if it were shorter.

In the third query, I wondered why Persephone was so mad. Why does her family want to destroy her love life? Is it an attempt to save Nate? I would have liked a little more clarity on that point.

In the fourth query, the third paragraph almost sounds like a re-start, and it's a bit jarring. Or perhaps the first two paragraphs are meant to be the hook or tagline. If so, they're a bit too long, although I found myself intrigued by them. I'd rather see the first two paragraphs left as is and the rest re-worked a little so that it flows more smoothly.

#1 and 5 were good queries, but the subject matter didn't interest me too much. I could see them both appealing to a lot of people, though.

Anonymous said...

I thought Unreality Chick wrapped up too much action in cliches and the length was not appropriate.

I thought I Would Have Loved You Anyway sounded really emo and schmaltzy - which is exactly what I would have LOVED when I was a young adult, hence more marketable. So, that was my vote.

Nothing is more helpful in the process of writing your own query letter than reading query letters from other aspiring writers and, of course, reading agents' blogs. THANKS NATHAN!

Anonymous said...

I think these are great queries. Having said that, I'm curious as to where the vote would be for "none." I'm very curious to know if any of these would actually get a partial or full requested. That is to say, since these are randomly chosen, who's to say these are even the best of the batch? We are voting on the best of this batch, but I'm always curious to know about an agent's ability to simply push these aside and move on in order to find gold in the pile of the day.

I'm not saying that these aren't gold.

Nathan Bransford said...


The reason there's no "none" option is because it doesn't work with the goal of the experiment, which is to see if there's a correlation between query quality and manuscript quality. By forcing everyone to choose whichever query they think is the strongest and then choosing whichever pages they think is the strongest we have a better sample than if there's a "none" option, which doesn't really tell us anything except some people didn't like the queries.

Anonymous said...

I read just the first couple sentences of "I'm a Nobody" and was reminded of Narnia. Although I thought "Shoreline" was a bit unorganized I thought the story would sell the best.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, at the end of the experiment, you are going to tell us which one you would have chosen, and why...aren't you?

Steppe said...

Tried to maintain the focus of a salable story I could push hard to a cynical editor whose job is always tenuous.

2. Had a very memorable synopsis and presentation. The crispness of the query implys this author has a firm grip of his story line and characters.
I "believe" I could convince another person this is sellable.

My personal reading preference in order would be
1. I'm A Nobody
2. Unreality Chick
3. Shoreline
4. Black Emeralds

I choose fantasy/supernatural based
on the believability of the world building. That's my *bias* as a reader due to a weird science preference.
Shoreline and Black Emeralds sound like novels I would enjoy by studying the portrayal of the characters in conflict quests that involve extreme alternate realities.
When I read and match those two partials to the queries I shall be reading for the power of the imagery, prose, flow and pacing to draw me into that dreamscape and away from my daily reality.

Unfortunately I am not a YA fan.
I think all the queries met a professional standard.
To my own author vote: #2
Razor edging the tag line to match the crispness of the synopsis.

Presley O’Connor's hopeful visions of an awesome senior year are crushed when a sinister eighteenth birthday greeting arrives in a black card opened up to reveal her mutilated yearbook picture glued by blood to an ominous message;
"Happy Last Birthday Presley."

I would re-title it to that also:
_ Happy Last Birthday _
I'm an agent. I have no soul.

Good work on all the submissions.
Thanks for the fun.

Maria Alexander said...

Really thought this was a genius idea to put up the queries, for the record.

Anyway, quite simply, the last query was the best for a few reasons. One, it grabbed me and said 1) Who was the main character, 2) What was her dilemma, and then 3) What did she do to start the story. The author also clearly demonstrated that she had a command of the English language that was a notch above the others. No misplaced commas. No grammatical issues. Just solid writing.

And, as a bonus, the idea seemed to appeal strongest to the YA market.

Disclaimer: I write copy for Disney.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

The exercise asked us to "look PAST the query" and give our opinion of the one with the "most POTENTIAL of selling to a publisher."

...I'm honestly a bit stumped with this one. I've been scrolling up and down for about 15 minutes and STILL can't make an ABSOLUTE decision. I'd last half a day as an AGENT. WELL DONE those who put themselves out there - difficult choice!!

'AGENT' AM chooses
# 4 for the VOICE - has great promise of what's to come.

# 5 for the storyline.

One of these two would be chosen if I were an AGENT. Probably #5 would be first choice due VOICE, wit and especially marketable value.

As plain old me I could happily read ALL of these. I'm a YA fan!There wasn't even one I disliked.

THANKS for showing us JUST HOW difficult this really is. PHEW!

Jeanne said...

#5, Unreality Chick, got my vote because the query told me enough to really pique my interest without giving away important plot twists or the gist of the story.

In many of the other queries, I felt like I might not need to read the book to know what happened. The trick of a query, IMHO, is to tease the agent into wanting to know more.

Like on Project Runway--you might be a good designer, but do I want to see more from you?

TiffanyD said...

I feel sympathy for Anonymous, upthread, who struggled with examining these as business letters. It is hard to know which agents prefer a more traditional "business letter" organization and tone as opposed to those who prefer the more "pitch blurby" sort.

StableGranny said...

I Would Have Loved You Anyway pulled at my interest. Wasn't sold with query but was interested that if I could have read more I would have.
Black Emeralds was a good query and again I was interested but the voice and plot line sounded too much Percy Jackson books
Unreality Chick was my pick because I smiled reading it, wanted to see if the novel was as refreshing as the query and it had a YA tone to it

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I would've asked for 'I would have loved you anyway' on the title alone. The title promises tension and pace, but 92k is too long and I'd expect some slashing.

Thanks guys for sharing. Good luck.

Keith Popely said...

Simon, JK Rowling just called and said 92k is not too long.

Bron said...

Wow, this has been such a helpful exercise. I think I have a much better understanding now of the difference between a well-written query, and one that grabs an agent's attention.

I chose Unreality Chick, after much dithering between it and Black Emeralds. These two stood out for me because of the voice. They sounded like writers I could spend an entire manuscript with. Each of the other three queries described stories that could be engaging or not, depending on the writer, but without a sample there was no way of telling from the query alone.

Unreality Chick wasn't the most well-written query, in my opinion. I would have liked more details on exactly what happened in this other world and what the stakes were. But the story sounded marketable and the voice sounded fun and I could see it selling.

It will be really interesting to read the partials and see if they live up to, or outstrip, the promise of their query.

Crystal said...

This one was a tough choice for me. I was deciding between Shoreline and Unreality Chick, but decided to choose Shoreline due to Unreality Chick's word count. 50,000 is a little too short for that type of novel too me. Also, Shoreline had a more sound synopses to me, and the story really grabbed me from the first sentence and only got better as I read on. Unreality Chick was interesting, but the description just didn't quite grab me as much as Shoreline did.

Thanks for sharing! All the queries were great you guys, I can't wait for the 30 pages to be posted :)

Brittany said...

The opening lines to BLACK EMERALDS are great, (an allusion to Teddy Roosevelt's quote on greatness...?) but UNREALITY CHICK got my vote. I'm a YA reader, and these days (in my opinion) there are way too many "My life was perfect until..." and "Imetthisguy/girlandfellinloveanditchangedmylife
worldorbecome[insert fantastic creature of choice here]/ go to [insert random fantasy world here]" books. There are not enough books about girls who aren't in a relationship that find themselves during the course of the book. Author of #5, my kudos to you.

Holly West said...

Shoreline has a lot of potential to be a great story. But I'm picking Unreality Check because I can see the whole thing laid out. It's more vivid to me.

Kelly said...

UNREALITY CHICK all the way! What a great query; short and tight. Tells you just enough but doesn't bore you with unnecessary details.

Victoria Dixon said...

I voted for "I Would Have Loved You Anyway" in large part because I thought the plot was well-stated and the word count was within the upper range of YA. That said, it was a close call between it and "Black Emeralds" because I loved the voice in the first paragraph. But then the rest of the query turns wordy and the word count seemed a bit long, though I realize it's a fantasy, so it's probably cool. Just my .02.

Joe G said...

Sorry this is so long! I'm killing time before LOST comes on. This was a fun exercise though.

1. Number 1 sounds like a nice story, but I had little idea of the voice. All you tell me, really, is that he goes to another world, becomes involved in a war between fantasy people and monsters, and that his father is involved somehow. Off the top of my head I can think of a number of stories that have the same plot.

I also have no idea why it's called "I'm a Nobody", which is an intriguing title. Giving the query a little more personality would tell us more about the world and the story. Also want to come away knowing why it's titled the way it is. Make the special salient.

2. There's verve and confident writing in this query but I had a little trouble reconciling the serial killer plot with the paranormal. There's less suspense in your description than you should like. I'm fairly confident that the serial killer isn't going to get Presley, and there's no tension in the relationship between Presley and Reid. They're fated to be together, he's fated to save her, etc… It's all a little too neat, you know? The paranormal aspect feels redundant, almost as if it drains the story of its tension. It's like… a story about a girl who gets kidnapped by an ice monster, and her boyfriend can shoot flames from his hands.

3. It's clear that you have an elaborate mythology for this, but it DOES evoke an immediate reference to Twilight in my head (especially the emphasis on the physical appearances of the characters). Some agents might be moved by this though. Also, careful with haphazard details… A siren is a terrifying creature which immediately evokes certain things in my mind, (why must she lure her boyfriend to his death? Since when are sirens nymphs? Aren't they bird ladies?) Persephone was a goddess of the underworld, daughter of Demeter, wife of Hades. What relationship does she have to the sea? When did she get so mean?

See if you can avoid soap opera statements like "Her family schemes to destroy her love life" and the like. Stuff like that can be inadvertently humorous.

4. Your query ends when it's just getting started. The first two sentences of the third paragraph don't make a lot of sense to me, I have to think about it harder than you want me to. The high school has nothing to do with anything else in your query, and feels like a random detail. You should work a little harder to make these plot details hang together and let us know what is at stake in this story.

This query does have a lot of personality though, and I KNOW that you've created characters that would be interesting to read about. They have dimension. Take that personality and turn the query into a narration instead of a laundry list of plot details and characters.

5. I actually chose number 5 because it had the clearest voice and it was funny, with some twists, which suggested to me it was worth looking at to see if the manuscript fulfilled the query's promise. I do agree with what others have said that it comes off a little juvenile, so I'm not sure if it's aimed at very young teens or older teens. The length and tone suggest younger. It depends on what kind of agent I am, I suppose.

What is an "expected" thunderstorm? If she expected it, why the heck would she climb a tree?

There's honestly very little plot in this query yet I know exactly what I'm going to get because of the voice. It's obviously parody and I can imagine this working in a few different ways.

Anonymous said...

The thing I didn't like overall was that every single letter followed the same format. I realize that this format is one of the preferred ways to query but after just five letters, I got a little tired of it.

Obviously an agent reads hundreds of these letters a is this ever an issue for you, Nathan? Does the format get boring or tired?

Nathan Bransford said...


I think you can see why some agents start to chafe at intros that begin I'm writing with regard to my novel.... or when lots of queries begin with rhetorical questions.

It's only human to start noticing patterns and for this to start driving you crazy after a while. But it's important to resist.

Kathleen Guler said...

It was a tie between #2 & #5. These two both were more complete in the description of the plot. I ended up voting for #5, "Unreality Chick" because it showed more 'personality' which I would hope carries over into the ms. The other three queries didn't flow quite as well. I know how difficult it is to distill a book down into a few words, having done it myself a number of times, so kudos to these brave attempts!

Luke said...

The first line of Black Emerald got me hooked. If the entire book is written this way, you've got an addictive page-turner.

K said...

Nathan, thanks for doing this. And big thanks to those brave enough to volunteer their queries. I'll admit I'm not sure what agents are looking at and picked the one that just gave me a good gut. Will be following closely to see what happens.


Alleged Author said...

I love the voice of Unreality Chick. You can hear the protagonist speaking through the query, and that is something I think will aid in a request for partials. If this author is this good at inserting voice into queries imagine how well he/she will do in the actual ms. Though according to "guidelines it is short for a YA fantasy, I think it sounds great! Not that I know much at all! :)
Butess is my security funny.

John Baron said...

Thanks to all the query writers -- including the ones not randomly selected. These were all good, and I'm impressed by this sample.

I chose UNREALITY CHICK because I liked the voice and because I thought the word count was well-matched to the audience and to the "fast and funny."

kimysworld said...

I was also torn between BLACK EMERALDS and UNREALITY CHICK. They both sound interesting and the queries are well written. All I have to say is that I'm glad I'm not an agent or I would be requesting tons of manuscripts and never sleep!

Janalyn Voigt (WaySinger) said...

I chose UNREALITY CHICK for its great premise and because it's already a marketable length for a YA.

Marilyn Peake said...

This is hard. Does my science kit come with special time tunnel glasses that allow me to see the future, specifically the day your blog posts the votes for the 30-page samples? All the queries are good, and all the books have popular YA themes.

I voted for BLACK EMERALDS. The first paragraph had such a great hook: "Sometimes you go looking for fate, hoping to find a path to greatness. Sometimes she breaks down your door with an apocalyptic grin and drags you out in the alley." And the rest of that query described a book with popular YA themes.

In choosing BLACK EMERALDS, I tried to follow Nathan’s guideline: "You are not looking for the best query according to the rules of blogging agents or what you personally would choose to read in your spare time. You are looking for the query that you think will have the best written pages and that you think has the most potential of selling to a publisher. Your job depends, in fact, on looking past the query."

I’m hoping BLACK EMERALDS has more paragraphs like the first one in the query for it. That one’s really great.

jean said...

I chose Unreality Chick because the query introduced me to a character I found engaging and would like to read more about.

Steppe said...

Reading favorite.

Dear Agent for a Day,

Everything Dominic Taylor knows about the universe is shattered when he follows classmate "---- ---" through an opening into another world. Both young men are pulled wildly by this hidden realms newly exposed native forces into a brutal, centuries long war between mankind and its myths. Dominic discovers the hidden reasons for the onset of the macabre war are far more complex than societies traditional simple minded fears of the supernatural. His only possible escape route is to decipher his dead father’s research and find its main experimental target; The Source, without falling into the same conclusively fatal trap.
What Dominic Taylor uncovers destroys every last shred of his former clarity. He shall now continue onward past the perils of a final battle only if he accepts the hard won revelations of this world truths and places his last moment of faith into a bolt to freedom scheme that forces him to overcome " -*- " and (not?) leave his terribly beleaguered, thoroughly bedeviled classmate "---- ---" behind to this worlds torturous torment.

Good Luck Author #1

Regan Leigh said...


Why does he want to go home? If I went through a door to another world, I'd think it was cool. What makes him want to rush home? The father thing comes out of nowhere. Why is he struggling to fit in if he wants to go home? They mention coming to terms with who he is, but they haven't even told us who he is? Overall, it's just too vague and non-descript. There's not much for me to connect with.

It sounds like an interesting book and a big plot, so they need to show it more in their query. Make their description as cool as their idea. :)


Something about the first paragraph threw me off. It came out cliche. Also, presence doesn't sound like the right word for a killer and I think it might be better off starting with the visions and spells. Just clarify that better. If she may be killed, how does that not "stand in the way of their happiness"?

This seems like a marketable YA concept, their query just needs some work. I bet there's a great voice in this book, I'd like to hear it in the query.


Overall, the plot was confusing. In the beginning, I thought she was going to live in the ocean since she's an ocean nymph. But then she moves to Bar Harbor? And was she in the ocean there? :) It mentions Nate's name and then in the 2nd paragraph, it says a gorgeous person without a name. Plus, when the nymph's beauty is mentioned and Nate is gorgeous... it felt telly. Made me wonder if it has problems with show vs tell in the book. (Though I'm sure it's just the way the query is written.)

But the story and title are interesting. :) The conflict and tension are pointed out clearly in this query, which is very good.


The opening paragraph is bordering cliche. I think it's going in the right direction, but it isn't quite there. I want to hear a flaw about the MC because that first paragraph makes him boring, like a Mary Sue character. Is Fate, the she referenced more than once, a character? That's confusing. The paragraph about Ailia is also confusing.

The male main character caught my interest because you don't see that as much. The fantasy world seems developed well and the creatures are interesting.


This is the one I voted for.

Negatives - At the end of the first paragraph, "in an expected thunderstorm" makes her sound stupid. There's adventurous and then there's Bella. (No offense to any fans, but really? I want more common sense in the characters.) This one had two sentences that were like lists that could be more effective if mirroring each other.

It's straightforward and relatable from the beginning. When it said "get wild" I was like, "Heck, yea!" :) I could hear more of the author's voice in this one as compared to the others. "Can she save the hottie, defeat the baddie, and run like hell from everything else?" - Great line. :)

wishnackha said...

Well done on submitting your work, lab rats. I'll start by saying I thought all the stories were interesting, so don't be offended by the following remarks; I'm only pointing out what lost me and why I voted the way I did.

#1 Felt like an all too familiar story. It only became interesting when "Source" was mentioned. The middle para was good, but then there was nothing.

#2 Serial killer? I guess it's not my thing - unless in a crime novel. A bit wordy too; too many things jammed together.

#3 Couldn't picture the nymph/siren in Maine.(Don't know why)and nothing made me care about Maya. Perhaps too much info and not enough 'hook' to make me curious.

#4 Kapow! I'm in. The writing grabbed me immediately and the story intrigued me. Got my vote.

#5 Would have voted for this too. If I were an agent, I would have requested a partial. She captured the voice of a shy kid determined to change herself extremely well.

Can't wait to see the partials.

Just a thought on the word count. I don't think a book should be losing votes because of it. Just look at the Harry Potter series - Thin, thick, fat, Huge, Fat. I believe if the story, voice, writing, is strong enough, the word count shouldn't matter.

Robin Constantine said...

These are all great! Thanks for sharing.

I picked #1. The writing is succinct.

Door to another universe/mystery involving deceased father/perilous journey home. I'm in!

Kari said...

Well, I'm certainly not cut out to be an agent! I think I would have requested to see more of all of these, and I'm not sure how much my choice (Black Emerald) was influenced by my own preferences. It might be easier for me to be objective in a different genre, though, since fantasy is what I normally read. Anyway, best wishes to all of the authors!

Ashley A. said...

I didn't exactly follow the rules. I'm sorry. Waaahh!

I thought I could pull things apart, but I picked UNREALITY CHICK pretty much because I read the query so fast and was left wanting more. Not sure that was my agent hat speaking.

My second choice would have been SHORELINE.

Ceridwen said...

I'd have to vote for UNREALITY CHECK. The query has a great tongue-in-cheek confidence and I think the concept could be marketed to Twilight fans...

Darin said...

I tried to do this experiment as the agents must have to, by first impression. Black Emeralds definitely caught my eye with the strong voice and humorous hook. Look forward to checking out the pages tomorrow.

Jane Steen said...

It's fascinating that so many commenters read "Unreality Chick" as "Unreality Check". I have read again and again that it's the publisher that ultimately decides on the title, but Nathan, do agents ever have any chance to give their opinion? And would the misreading influence you?

When I'm writing marketing copy, sitting in meetings listening to how others interpret my words often suggests when a change needs to be made. If I heard "Unreality Check" enough times I might be tempted to go in that direction.

Another question: I read all five queries quickly and made up my mind quickly, pretending to be an agent who receives hundreds of them every week (day?) Do you have a system for putting aside the ones that might be interesting and reading them more carefully later, or do you trust your first impression?

Anonymous said...

I chose I WOULD HAVE LOVED YOU ANYWAY for several reasons. First and foremost,I liked the plot. I like a mystery and although I think I know where this book is going, curiosity concerning the plot twists would lead me to finish the book.
That said, I want to congratulate #1 for his thoughtful query. You work hard, Nathan, to judge and represent us fairly and his was the only query that reflected his awareness of your end of this deal.
The other queries were all "look at me and what I've done" or business-as-usual.
Also, I'll bet anything I know the crux of #1's novel and I'm all sorts of curious to know just how the protagonist is going to handle it. I'd definitely read this book.
I was immediately turned off by SHORELINE's use of the word "gorgeous". Can't we have ordinary-looking protagonists? Or at least protags that don't realize they're gorgeous? It's generic, to my way of thinking. If the author has to fall back on beauty, will the rest of the novel be generic as well?
I thought BLACK EMERALDS was interesting. I liked the opening paragraph. Fascinating use of words. I'd probably read that book and really enjoy it.
UNREALITY CHICK didn't do much for me. To begin with, 50,000 words is a tad short. To end with, it's show, not tell. I don't see any of the humor the next-to-the-last paragraph promises. Nor do I see that it's fast paced. And, again, the words "handsome" and "evil" are generic, imho. If those words were on the book jacket I'd never buy the book.

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