Nathan Bransford, Author


Thursday, August 19, 2010

How to Write a Query Letter

Proper technique
In order to have your novel published you will probably need to write a query letter. Here's how.

Once you have followed the gentle suggestions in the How to Write a Novel post and/or my book How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel You Will Love Forever and you done gone and written yourself a novel, (or if you've written a nonfiction book proposal), it is then time to see what the world thinks of it. The first step in this process if you are seeking traditional publication is to find an agent.

Please check out this post about how to find a literary agent, since a query letter is not the only way of going about it. But chances are you will at some point have to sit down and write one of these beastly missives. Here's how you do it.

What to Know Before You Start

A query letter is part business letter, part creative writing exercise, part introduction, part death defying leap through a flaming hoop. (Don't worry, you won't catch fire and die during the query process though it may feel precisely like that at times). In essence: it is a letter describing your project.

The first thing to know about writing query letters is that there are as many opinions out on the Internet about query letters as there are, well, opinions on the Internet. You will find lots of dos and don'ts and peeves and strategies and formulas. The important thing to remember about this is that everyone is wrong except for me. (Just kidding. The important thing to remember is that you will need to choose the ideas that work best for you).

As the immortal Douglas Adams said, don't panic! Write the best letter you can, be yourself, don't overthink it too much, don't sweat it if you realize the second after you sent it that you made a typo or accidentally called me Vicky. If an agent is going to get mad or reject you over something trivial like that they're probably not the type of person you'd want to work with anyway.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

(For Further Reading):
Get the Big Stuff Right
Can You Query If You Are An Unpublished Novelist and Your Novel Isn't Finished?
The Common Sense and Decency Rule
Why It's So Important to Learn to Summarize Your Work

Research and Personalization

The second thing to do before you write the query is to research. This is because you need to do your darndest to:

1) Figure out which agents would be the right fit for your work - Three basic things to figure out: a) does the agent represent your genre, b) do they represent something too similar to your project, c) do they seem like they would be a good fit for you. The answers should be a) yes, b) no, c) yes.
2) Figure out the agent's submission procedure - Submission guidelines are like snowflakes: no two are alike. Also they melt. (Not really.) You will need to Google the agent and/or the agency in order to figure out where to send the query (it may be through the mail or via e-mail or via an online form) and what the agent wants included with the query. Follow these guidelines!
3) Include a personalized tidbit about the agent in the query to show you did your research - Personalize the query! Show the agent that you put in the time and have targeted them in your search. Mention an interview or a book they've represented or that they seem inordinately attached to the color orange.
4) Make sure they're reputable. - There are tons of scam artists out there, so do your research. No agent should charge you a fee upfront. Know your rights as an author.

How do you research all of this? Firstly via The Google, but there are also online resources such as AgentQuery, Query Tracker, the AAR database, the Absolute Write message boards, Publishers Marketplace, and many other links on the left side of this page, which I recommend perusing.

And please please please PLEASE familiarize yourself with Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors, which help authors sort out the legitimate agents from the scammers. Check out Absolute Write if you're unsure about someone.

If you can't find info about an agent but know they are legit, do the best you can personalizing, and send a basic query letter through the mail with a SASE. Attitudes toward e-mailed queries are changing somewhat, but chances are if you can't find an agent's e-mail address easily online it means they don't want to be found.

(For Further Reading):
Personalizing vs. Kissing Up
Hoops vs. Hints
Don't Get Caught Up In The Rush
Make an Agent's Life Easier
Don't Fake a Personalized Query
The Batch Querying Theory
Taking a Chance on a Young Agent
When In Doubt, Query Me

Writing the Darn Thing

Ah, the fun part. Only not really.

Once you have determined who you are querying, then it is time to write it. As I mentioned, there are tons and tons of ways of going about this, but you are in luck as I have a handy dandy mad lib to get you started. Just plug in the details of your novel into this formula and it will give you a basic query to start with. From there expand on it, personalize, and make it your own.

You are trying to accomplish two important tasks with the query:

1) You are trying to make the plot/subject of your book sound awesome
2) You are trying to show the agent that you write well

Especially for fiction I highly recommend that you try as much as possible to write the query so that it embodies the spirit of your project. If your book is funny, write a funny a query. If your book is written with beautiful lyrical prose, write your query accordingly. An agent is looking at your query to determine whether they want to read more and whether they think you can write professionally.

For nonfiction, it's very important to give a sense of your level of expertise, your platform, and how much publicity you could bring to bear in the promotion of your work.

Other things I would suggest:
- Don't go crazy with the formatting.
- Keep your query between 250-350 words.
- Keep the focus on the project you are querying about, even if you're a previously published author
- Be as specific as possible about plot details without overwhelming the agent with unnecessary detail (tricky balance, I know)
- Always include a sample of your work (5 pages is a good rule of thumb), even if the agent doesn't ask for it. No one is going to reject you for this, so this is the one place where I think it's permissible to break with submission guidelines. If you are e-mailing your query, be sure and paste this in the body of an e-mail. No attachments.

(For Further Reading):
Query Letter Mad Lib
Examples of Good Queries
The One Sentence, One Paragraph, and Two Paragraph Pitch
How to Format a Query Letter
Query Letter Subject Lines
The Secret Strength of Killer Queries: Specificity
Comparing Your Book to Other Books in the Query
Themes Schmemes
The Importance of the Pitch
Things Agents Don't Need to Know
How and Whether to Mention Blurbs and Referrals
How and Whether to Mention Your Publishing Credits
How to Mention a Series in a Query

What Happens Next

After you've sent that bad boy off, you sit back and wait for the agent to consider it. And wait. And wait some more.

Here's what's happening on an agent's end: First we print out all the queries and stack them up. Then we spread them around the room until they're a few inches deep. Next we lie down, wave our arms and legs, and make query angels.

Actually it works kind of like this.

What you want is a request for a partial or a full manuscript, in which case your query has done its job and you have moved on to the next step. If you've sent out a dozen or so queries and haven't gotten so much as a nibble, there might be something wrong with your query and you may wish to tweak it a little and give it a second look.

Bear in mind that many/most agents have a no-response-means-no policy, so if you do not hear back after a couple of months you have your answer. It is not customary to follow-up if you haven't heard back on a query. I personally try to respond to all e-mailed queries within 24-48 hours unless I'm out of the office, so if you haven't heard from me in a couple of weeks please contact me again, mention that you didn't hear from me, and include your original query.

Also please remember that agents are positively besieged with queries - you have one query you are worrying about, we have 15,000 or more to answer in a year. Keep your cool, stay calm, and be professional throughout the process.

(For Further Reading):
The Query Deluge
How to Respond to a Request for a Partial
The Five Stages of Query Grief
All About Re-querying
Why Agents Aren't More Specific About What We're Looking For
Why I Can't Answer Follow-up Question After Queries or Provide Referrals
How to Understand a Rejection Letter
It's Not You, It's the Odds
Don't Forget That Every Writer Gets Rejected At Some Point

And that's it! Query letter writing doesn't have to be a horribly frightening experience. Just remember to be professional, do your research, and keep writing in the meantime. Don't forget the 10 Commandments of the Happy Writer.

If you need feedback on your query or if you have further questions, there is a Query Feedback section in the discussion forums, and I am always happy to answer your questions in the Ask Nathan thread.

Also, there are many great resources regarding query letters out on the Internet. Writer Beware actually had a great post yesterday, and I highly recommend Janet Reid's indispensable query critique blog Query Shark. Please also share your favorite links and resources in the comments section.

Happy Querying!






107 comments:

Berinn said...

Thanks for the information, Nathan.
Loved the query angels.

Bane of Anubis said...

Nathan, have you figured out how to warp the space-time continuum? It's amazing how much newish info and insight you provide given the already large library of posts you've got. Thank you.

A.L. said...

Great post, but I am just curious on whether or not you should be concerned with spoilers in the query.

As, on the one hand you want to entice the Agent, and showing a twist that comes up could help with that. But on the other, wouldn't knowing a twist is coming up somewhat take away from the book if you do get that desired "send me the manuscript" response?

Nathan Bransford said...

A.L.-

It's up to you, and I think there are varying opinions about that. Definitely spoil the ending in a synopsis, but in the query I'd just go with whatever works best for you.

Mira said...

Another terrific post. Collecting all of your work on certain topics and summarizing them seems like such a huge endeavor you've taken on, but it's so helpful!!

The query angels were hilarious.

Of course, I'd appreciate this more if I didn't hate the query with the red, hot, burning hatred I usually reserve for drivers who cut me off on the bridge, but I still appreciate it!

D.G. Hudson said...

Many thanks for this post, Nathan. I like how you reduce the fearsome task of querying into less intimidating steps. (a good illustration of your earlier post on breaking big tasks into smaller components).

Great minds must think somewhat alike. Ann Crispin from Writer Beware also posted an article on query writing.

I love it when you knowledgeable industry insiders share your information with the blog readers & followers.

Now I have to go and check all those links you included, as there are a few new ones that I might have missed.

Your dedication to this blog is very much appreciated, Nathan.

Gregory K. said...

Great, helpful post. Coincidentally, this past week's #kidlitchat was all about queries. There are some excellent tips in the transcript.

swampfox said...

You have to write well to sell your well-written writing. Makes sense.

lexcade said...

nathan, i think i love you. totally querying you on my next project.

Carol Riggs said...

Difficult to write, queries are (love the Yoda effect). Lately I've been writing queries or query-like summaries closer to the BEGINNING of my novel. It helps me focus where I'm going. (Oh yeah, heh-heh, does this have a plot and conflict?) Then it's not so hairy by the time I finish the novel.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

I am, or course, suitably impressed with that post. The best summary ever written on the topic I feel.

But attaching those extra pages could entail some risk for the Nazi agents out there, but then again, it's self selecting. Who would want to work with an agent that ditched your query just because you provided extra info?

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Yeah, exactly. If someone reads the pages and thinks, "Wow, these are incredible but this person didn't follow my submission guidelines absolutely perfectly so it's a pass" you probably don't want them as an agent. Meanwhile, if you wrote a so-so query and your pages are great you might catch someone you might not have connected with otherwise.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Ay, caramba!

That was the Moby Dick of all query posts.

Kelly Wittmann said...

I must be in the minority, because I absolutely love writing query letters. The hard part (writing the novel) is over and the thrilling part (getting feedback from agents) is coming up, so I find writing the query both relaxing and exciting.

Cassie said...

Great post. I have a next-step question. I recently had an agent ask to see my whole novel, and wasn't sure if I should send it as it is (18 chapters in separate Word files) or merge it all into one huge document. Which is better?

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Query Angels!!!

I have just one bit of advice to add: write a query for your project before or near the start of writing said project. True, you might throw it out later.

But it does two things for me: it gives me a chance to "sell" the work to my critters before I invest a lot of time. Also, I revamp it constantly during writing and then by the time revisions are over I've got a working draft. That way I don't put off writing the darn thing after revisions are over. (Important for me, as I'm a huge procrastinator.)

Nathan Bransford said...

Cassie-

Absolutely one document.

Kelly Moran said...

I just KNEW that's what you really did with query letters!
LOL. Great post.

Nicki Elson said...

One teesy error in this awesome post---you ended it with "Happy Querying!" No. Such. Thing.

Livia said...

Nathan -- what kind of sample pages do we include with a nonfiction query, if any? The overview? Sample chapters?

@TheGirlPie said...

Excellent points all 'round, for MPTV lit agents/prod cos, too. Hope everyone finds and takes your detailed advice, but they'll also find a great way to procrastinate on writing and sending the query: your links and resources are extensive ~!

One thought for those of you also writing for the screen, about 'spoiling the ending' in a query or synopsis:
if your ending has a twist or relies on a surprise for impact, consider how to convey it in both (a) as lean and understood a way as possible to convey what will happen without describing what happens, and (b) in a visual and emotional way that is NOT exactly like the wording in the script.

It is possible to do both in the tone of your genre, and it avoids the risk that the Reader will later get to the last pages and feel they knew all along what was coming, and counting it as less-than-fresh when it's really a side-affect of being too exact with your ending in your query or synopsis.

So rather than write "...so Cinderella and the Prince lived happily ever after."
Consider "As her Evil Stepmother threatens, the Prince grows despondent, and the glass slipper beckons for her little foot, Cinderella's heart pounds as she wonders: Will 'happily' ever be in her own little corner of 'ever after'?"

Only better -- YOU guys are the writers~!

Thanks Nathan ~ spread the word!

Nathan Bransford said...

Livia-

Good question - I think I'd include sample pages, but if there's an Introduction that makes sense to include I'd go with that. The overview is probably sufficiently covered within the query.

Matthew Rush said...

Where were you last year when I was querying blindly and with excessive ignorance Nathan? Your blog it existed? It was this awesome already? I was just too lazy, too uninformed, too excited, to take the time to research this thing properly?

Fail. Thank goodness I never queried you back then. Seriously though, you give the best advice ever. I would also suggest that you look to other successful writers whom you trust. Get to know them through their blogs, and they will help you.

Forums are great but you can't believe everything you read. I actually posted my query in the WriteOnCon forums and it was getting pretty torn up by other writers ... until the same query, with one sentence slightly changed, won the WriteOnCon query contest judged by agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe. Just be careful who you listen to.

Maya said...

"write the query so that it embodies the spirit of your project. If your book is funny, write a funny a query. If your book is written with beautiful lyrical prose, write your query accordingly."

Very important advice!

I think you're on a roll here to break your own record as most helpful agent blog. (Don't tell the other agents I said that)

Tahereh said...

you ASTOUND me with your genius.

god i really need to wear more orange.

Marilyn Peake said...

Thank you for such a wonderfully detailed, informative post. And I love the query angels idea. HaHaHaHa! I also love the picture at the top that shows the "Proper technique". I think many of us have already tried that. :)

Livia said...

Thanks! I've been trolling agent blogs looking for the answer to that for a while, but never found anything.

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Nathan - I've followed your blog off and on for years. You seem to want and/or choose to relate to authors and wannabe authors. I believe your intentions are good and you are sincere - you really seem to wish writers well. However, I will not kiss your butt or sugar coat my experience with literary agents.
Suffice it to say, my experience has been less than stellar. I have followed your guidelines, (although I've never subbed to you), and the guidelines of every single agent I've queried - and they have been many. I've done my research, my homework so to speak, and carefully crafted my queries and my submissions.
At best, I've received NO response. At worst I've been treated with the utmost rudeness. I am not a demanding person, nor do I feel entitled to representation. I don't think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. I'm realistic about my ability as a writer and my potential.
You can post about guidelines all you want, but from what I can tell, for an unknown author, it's a catch 22. Publishers aren't interested in unagented submissions. Agents aren't especially interested in unknown authors.
Sometimes it's the luck of the draw. Sometimes it's who you know.
More than that...it's a mystery.

Melanie said...

So many links! Thanks, Nathan!

Nathan Bransford said...

Julia-

I'm very sorry you've had frustrating experiences, but I would urge you to look again and again at the post It's Not You, It's the Odds, which could also be rewritten to read, "It's Not Agents, It's the Odds."

The truth is that while of course there are some bad apples, agents are really just doing the best they can with a herculean task. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of novels out there, every other wants individualized attention, everyone wants their manuscript to make it through, and it's just not always possible.

Agents are very very very interested in finding projects they can sell, but that doesn't necessarily mean that everyone has the time or inclination to respond to every query they receive. I respond because I feel like it's the right thing to do but I'm not going to lie, it's a monumental task to stay on top of queries. For agents who already have a roster full of clients, queries simply aren't always a priority (and if you were one of those clients that's exactly how you'd want it).

I wish there were a formula for finding publication, but there just isn't. It's a frustrating and uncertain process on the best of days. All you can do as an author is to just keep plugging away.

Phoenix said...

Query Shark is a great place to see what works and what doesn't. But you're not likely to see your own work critted by Janet any time soon, if at all. For a fast turn at having your query critted, try Evil Editor's blog. There are also over 800 critted queries on his site to learn from. The man does have a wicked sense of humor and pulls no punches, so you also get the benefit of learning to develop thick writer hide.

Dayana Stockdale said...

Wow that graphic is almost as annoying as writing a query letter!

Laura Martone said...

Thanks, as always, Nathan, for teaching us and making us giggle at the same time. Another post to reference later...

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Nathan, thanks for the personal response. I am published with several e-pubs. Reader and reviewer responses to my books have been good, very good, actually.
After banging my head against a wall for two years - i.e. - the mainstream publishing world, I took another route. I won't lie and say 'up your nose with a rubber hose' when it comes to my desire for that big publishing contract...I do care. But as time goes on, I care less.
Again, thanks.

William Jones said...

I think don't forget your towel comes before don't panic. But still, both are great bits of advice.

Florence said...

Nathan: Recently I took a webinar with Rachelle Gardner, regarding the technique, etc of writing a query.

I will get her personal critique by the end of the month.

I trash a query if I get more than two rejections. Why? Because if the darn thing were working, it would grab someone's attention.

Arrogant, conceded? No, not at all. It's because the book is funny. I still laugh at some of my own jokes.

I want to see what Ms. Gardner has to tell me about this query. However, reading your post today, one line struck me. Duh, like a brick?

If the book is funny, the query should also be funny?

I am tainted with too much business background and have probably been killing my queries with "proper" instead of igniting them with laughter.

Thanks, I will let you know what she had to say.

Oh, and yes, every agent blog, gives the uninitiated the courage to forge on.

ryan field said...

"Here's what's happening on an agent's end: First we print out all the queries and stack them up. Then we spread them around the room until they're a few inches deep. Next we lie down, wave our arms and legs, and make query angels."

Ha!!! LMAO...

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Excellent and helpful post, as usual!

I know there's lots of conflicting advice about writing the queries, but what do you do when you have conflicting information about agents? I'm refering to basic information to get you started, like what genre that agent reps (I'm looking at you Query Tracker). I love agents who specify what they rep on their websites, and would consider that the most reliable, but not all do.

So which of your sources (QT, AQ, etc) would you say is most reliable? And if it says they rep MG in one place, but not another, would you be safe in assuming they do?

February Grace said...

and again...this is why you are universally adored.

No, that's not just the pain meds talking. Why do you ask?

Auntie Em? Is that you? Uncle Owen? Aunt Beru?

*thud*

In other words and in all seriousness- I am really sick right now so I just hope I say this right.

Mr. Bransford- thank you.

Especially for those 10 Commandments. I have referred to them often, especially since I started to suspect this whole querying/agent search thing just isn't for me. I'm not cut out for it. Thanks for helping me realize that early on- I am grateful.

I've realized I'm meant to be a hermit writer- and that's okay. Why? Because I will likely never develop the skin 'tough enough' to make it in 'this business' and that's okay.

I want to be happy more than I want to be published.

That's not 'giving up'. That's not 'lack of persistence' though some may call it that. It's making an informed decision based on what you know of yourself- and that's the best any of us can do.

Life is just too short to do it any other way, you know? I didn't fight through five surgeries to get my sight back to spend it agonizing over queries (or agent blogs. This is the only one I really read anymore and will keep reading.)

I got it back to see sunsets, my kid's smile. To see Disney World, and fireworks again. To read stories and write them.

So that's what I'm going to do, and your blog has been the thing that really helped me the most- of all the information out there online- in this year long journey coming to that conclusion.

So thank you- truly. What you do here really helps a lot of people.

It has really helped me.

~bru

Cathi said...

Beautiful post, Grace. Please don't give up.

That said... Today's blog is great, but reading the comments, especially the folks who had bad querying experiences, really beats my confidence into a sticky paste. My desire to get published is high, but my expectations are low it will happen.... Even loaded with all this info the thought of the querying process is terrifying. Still, I'm going to do it and know that if no one asks to read my manuscript it won't be because I wasn't prepared.

Anonymous said...

Nathan .

Your humour translates very well from my side of the world .

--Deb said...

Query angels sound fun! But, what do you call them when you get paper cuts? Query Devils?

(Oh yeah, thanks for the useful information, too.)

wry wryter said...

Hey all you, my-query-sucks-and-I- will-never-get-published, people.
Did ya ever think about the odds.

You either get published or you don't, 50/50, pretty good huh.

Sleep on that why don't cha.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Nathan .

I now feel completely confident in querying you , that is... as soon as I get this comment exactly right !
AAargghh...

E.J. Wesley said...

Sage advice Vicky ... err, I mean NATHAN! Sage advice NATHAN!

Man, Nathan's going to reject me in his sleep tonight, and I haven't even queried him.

Seriously, good stuff Nathan. You didn't reveal anything that hasn't been said but, as usual, you put it in a way that knuckleheads like me can understand. Thanks!

Donna Hole said...

Keep up these type posts and you'll force me to visit you again. And again . .

Loved the voice and the humor in this. Entertaining and informative both.

I've been here, and other places, and read some of this before, but you always keep the info fresh and exciting.

Thanks for the post; and have a good night.

.......dhole

Theresa Milstein said...

This a thorough post about querying. I just wish I knew if my query is any good. Without feedback about the actual query, I don't really know if I've done it well. Or is it the manuscript?

Becky Wallace said...

Can someone please, please, please tell me the "correct" way to write a query when your story has two protags?

Is it possible without making one of the characters sound less important than the other?

Thanks in advance.

Oh, BTW, here's another link to a good article on composing query letters.

http://writeoncon.com/2010/08/writing-a-query-letter/

Becca said...

Oh I must see these query angels. Although I don't think they can compare to my post-it note angels.

Definitely helpful. The two things that bother me the most about querying is the differences between everyone and the insanity inducing waiting.

Oh, and the fact that you said I wouldn't catch fire... so now I have no explanation for these singed eyebrows....

~Sia McKye~ said...

Nathan, good info and some good reminders. Good links too.

I've let life and blog get in the way of querying of late. Must get back into it and a refresher course was just what I needed. :-)

Meghan said...

Oh query angels! I laughed for about five minutes when I read that. Great post Nathan!

Anonymous said...

"Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose."

Love that. Great post.

Dawn Pier said...

Nathan,
How much does location matter in selecting agents to send your queries to? I realize that this might sound silly in the internet age, but seriously - is there an advantage to choosing agents who are situated somewhere close at hand? Or is is completely irrelevant?

Sheila Cull said...

That post answered one question that had been nagging me, a relief, thanks. I wonder how many reputable literary agents there are in the United States?

Don't forget a future post for Forums about the best writing conferences!

Zachary Grimm said...

Thanks as always, Vicky...I mean, Nathan. :) And I'm loving the Friday Night Lights ref.

On a side note, I'm curious: is the publishing world going crazy with Barnes & Noble's latest news? :)

jongibbs said...

Another great post, Nathan. thanks for sharing :)

Moyrid said...

The little picture of the person banging his head- exactly what a query letter does to you. But I think it also makes you really think what your book is about and maybe make your story better. Thanks the more help we can get with query letters the better.

Dan Holloway said...

As ever I am really struck by how different things are in the States from here in the UK, where you always send out a synopsis and sample with the very first query. It must be so much more daunting not having any of the book itself to include in the query but still having to convey its tone perfectly.

Jenn Marie said...

YES Friday Night Lights.

My new seeking representation/querying strategy is akin to dating (which thank the lord I don't have to do anymore): Present my best, most authentic but polished self...and if they don't like it, they're not right for me anyway!

Kristin Laughtin said...

I tend to overwrite. Everything. I remember reading that post about keeping the query between 250-350 words and it was a real eye-opener for me. I've only written practice queries, so I can't affirm this strategy has brought me success, but they were MUCH stronger after I went back and cut words and made them seem impossibly short to capture the full essence of my novel. So thanks!

Also, yes: do your research. It will help you out, guaranteed.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

For the record: Mira, that wasn't me on the bridge. Couldn't have been. I don't think.

Julia: I'm not very interested in kissing anyone's butt, either. I, too, really am a huge fan of the color orange.

I share your pain, sister. But I gotta say--2 years? Two whole years you toiled at finding an agent?

I've had two agents very enthused about my writing who still couldn't sell my novels to traditional publishers.

I have self-published, by the end of this year, two novels that went reasonably far in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and have received praise, in some cases higher praise than I ever expected.

But I've been at it--agents, non-agents and all--since my first agent took me on in 1977.

So, and I'm sure he's covered it in another post, I think all writers need to figure out who--or why--they're writing for, and why or if they want an agent.

Self-publishing, of which I'm obviously an advocate, is now a much greater and readily accessible outlet for creative writing, partly as a function of economics and partly as a function of the advent and popularity of the Kindle.

But I'm writing admittedly largely for myself, and am happy if anyone decides to read my writing. And happier if they like it.

I am not 'struggling' to be the next Jonathan Franzen...

That said, I miss my first agent especially every day, because of his encouragement and validation of my efforts. And because he read everything I sent him, thoroughly, and still managed to be encouraging until the night he died of cancer. I never sent him a query. He convinced me to try and write my first novel. He read the whole thing, not wanting to see just a sample.

He spoiled me thoroughly. I still resent having to write a query, like some love-sick kid hoping to get a girl to notice him in class. But hey, it's now the norm. Soon, maybe instead of a 250 word query, you'll be expected to send a 140-character "tweet."

If you want an agent--and want to be published by a traditional publisher because of it--you really should read and absorb Nathan's advice. Because he's not just saying stuff. He's in this business, he's been in this business, and--he is a writer "under contract."

One other tip I've received from others: look at who "agents" the writers you like, or you think you write most like.

I was in fact just about to query--and would certainly have after reading this latest blog of Nathan's--an agent who all my research, and the advice of others in the publishing business I've had the fortune of knowing, appeared the most likely successor to my relationship with Ray Puechner.

Unfortunately for me, and for writers everywhere, she just died this past week.

But I guess that's kinda my point, too. When you do get the agent who is right for you, in the words of a friend whose agent is the one who died, they become "like a member of your family."

Querying agents, I believe, is still better than having an agent you love, who dies. I'm sure her clients will do well. But I already know she's missed.

So--use Nathan's advice. Get your queries out. Now.

My favorite part of all his advice on querying, by the way: if you can't find anyone else, "query me."

J. T. Shea said...

Bane of Anubis, I believe JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW will contain details of how to warp the space-time continuum. Nathan is nothing if not educational.

kay said...

I love writing query letters. I mean that... I *LOVE* writing query letters.

It feeds into my marketing background and all the creativity that outlet provides. Just figuring out how to blurb the essence of the book cements my understanding of what I have written even further.

I like writing queries so much that I write queries for other people. I sit with their work, roll around the intent to see what it was and then find the voice they're using and put it all together.

Do you know what the best thing about a well written query is? Sometimes the work gets rejected, but there is a lot of comfort in writing a query that provoked interest in it in the first place. Even if the story is a bomb, interest in a query can reinforce a) that you're writing is worthwhile (even if it hasn't successfully carried through a novel yet) and b) that the topic must worthwhile/interesting on some level.

The wonderful thing about a query is that it can provide reaffirmation that you are on the right path even though you are currently in a deluge of "this book doesn't fit our current needs" letters.

Hey, if they liked my query, there's some potential there I can harness as long as I keep trying to wrangle it into submission. ;^)

Mike said...

Just read the linked piece on how to understand a rejection letter and had a flashback -- Back in the days of typewriters and White-Out, I got a form rejection from a publisher that had the beginning of a PS at the end, but which was whited out. Of course, you could still see the impressions in the paper. It read: "P.S. We're s"

I spent the next six months trying to complete the sentence. Was it "We're still laughing" or "We're stupid to be turning you down"?

Anonymous said...

I always wonder when agents ask for the first five pages - do you mean double-spaced? Because I don't want to send more than 1000 words extra.

-K

Anonymous said...

I'm slightly confused because of contradictory information I've read on the internet.

Do I send a query letter alongside a non-fiction proposal, or does the query letter precede and, hopefully, invite the proposal.

Thank you.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I personally think it should precede and hopefully invite.

The Crazy Baby Mama said...

the search for a literary agent -- a novice writer's holy grail. that, and a stiff drink, might just be enough to make me do a happy dance.

thank you for your blog - it is a wonderful resource.

Julie Weathers said...

This is probably the best post you've ever written,

You and Janet Reid beat me to the punch.

Thank you.

The Literate Pen said...

I'm not exactly ready to write a book but I am planning to submit an article to Readers Digest and they specifically ask for a one page query. Would you say this process works much the same for magazine article queries? I also enjoy your blog and your advice is excellent. Thank you for the service you provide to all us fledgling writers!

Mary-Lou said...

This Query info really helped me to perfect my query... I think. Gah! Writing a query is definitely harder than the actual work. I'm still waiting to be Query Shark's chum to know for sure.
Anyways, I have another question that's relative to writing a query. So, while I'm researching each agent, trying to get to know their taste and what they want to see in a query. Most agents don't take attachments. Basically, all of them don't.
For those who wish to have a sample of the manuscript in the body of the email, how exactly do you do this?!
I mean, I know I can't just copy and paste from a Word document because the margins are all screwy. What do I do to include the story, if asked, in the body of the email?
Once I figure this out, I know you'll be the first I send it to, Nathan!

5pocketphilosopher said...

Predators and Editors is under a lawsuit according to their website so be careful to recommend them for the time being.

Anonymous said...

If I find another published work that is similar to mine in writing style, and the author is extremely successful, is it alright to compare the two works in my query letter, or will that be seen as overconfidence or conceit?

Anonymous said...

When querying a manuscript that you wish to publish under a pseudonym; would you send the query from the pseudonym, or from yourself and deal with the pen-name later? It seems self-defeating to begin a relationship with an agent without being completely open and honest...

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Please check out this post for more info on pen names

SinMac said...

I've been recommended to your blog countless times. I've read and reread your advice, edited my manuscript and draft query several times along the way. I just wanted to say Thank-you.

Oh, and I finally signed up to follow today. I'm trying to control my "internet research addiction". I'm hoping that actively following will cut down on the time I spend surfing instead of writing. lol

Anonymous said...

Should I take the dead-end link re: pen names to mean that pen-names themselves are a dead-end? lol

Nathan Bransford said...

Sorry, here's the right link

Anonymous said...

Thank you! So nice to have a clear direction.

Luan Li said...

Hi Nathan, I pretty much read every post on your blog and tried to absorb as much advice I could before approaching you. I've finished my query letter for my debut multicultural YA novel (after rewriting it four or five times) and I'm wondering if you can give a critique.

Rashley said...

Opinions are like elbows, everyone has at least two. I sent a request to my LinkedIn and Facebook communities to read the summary of my manuscript's plot. Many people responded with pitch info, a lot of which was contradictory. I hadn't asked about a pitch only the plot summary. Folks just wanted to chime in. Amongst all the well meaning advice, many told me to find your advice... which of course I already had.

I suppose the one thing I would add to your sage advice is to remember the query/pitch is being sent to a human being, bad breath and all.

rajiv said...

great set of information.

Sharon of Belmont, Ca. said...

Nathan, thank you for this great information. It gives me hope that I can do this, but! take my time. I love to write
stories, but! I was not too sure on the synopsis or query letter. Your information is a great guide to helping someone like me...Thank you again Nathan...

Barry Frangipane said...

Nathan:

I would like to thank you for this great info in your blog. (Why don't people just come right out and thank someone instead of saying "I would like to...", I'm not sure.

Anyway, what I was saying was that my coffee here at Starbucks has gotten cold while I was reading all of your useful info, and I don't think that they are going to give me a free cup if I say, "I was reading Nathan Bransford."

No, that wasn't what I was saying. I was saying "Thanks". Really. Look for me on the NY Times Best-Seller list. Not expecting to be there, but it gives you something to do, looking there. Meanwhile, I've got some queries to write, using your advice.

Barry Frangipane (The Venice Experiment)

Jill Bonnar said...

Great information as usual, my only question is just about the sample. In your experience, is it better to select the five or so pages from the beginning or from a particular scene you feel conveys the overall tone best? I've given this a lot of thought and both seem to have their advantages. The beginning could start to draw them in and leave them wanting more. A carefully selected scene could really grab their attention and show them how the novel will stand out.

Christina said...

Hi Nathan, I've been wondering lately as I continue to study query letters and editors' responses to them. You said that the voice of the query should match the voice/theme of your proposal, but I've noticed a few query letters that are deemed excellent where the voice of the letter doesn't seem to match the theme of the book...like a sarcastic/humorous query letter written for a serious crime/thriller novel. Is this "okay"? My book is "serious", but I find when I write my query letter it's rather boring, and I think of taking the laid-back humorous approach but it won't match my novel. Any advice? Thank you! :)

Bec said...

This my seem like a dumb question, but I am having difficulty deciding exactly what genre my book fits into best. I am not sure if it should be commercial fiction, literary fiction or women's fiction. would it be possible to get help with this?

Bec said...

This may seem like a dumb question, but I am not sure exactly what genre my novel best fits into. I can't decide if it is commerical fiction, literary fiction or women's fiction. Would it be possible to get help with this?

Bec said...

sorry, I didn't mean to post that twice. I didn't think it went through the first time.

Anonymous said...

Nathan

What is your opinion on the following when sending a query letter: should I use my pen name or my real name? Thank you.

Eleeze

By the way your tips are very good and I'll keep them in mind.

Anonymous said...

Nathan

What is your opinion on the following when sending a query letter: should I use my pen name or my real name? Thank you.

Eleeze

By the way your tips are very good and I'll keep them in mind.

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Nathan,

Thanks for the great tips. First time here, and I shall be back, as former Cali. governors are wont to say.

Kas Thomas said...

Some extra strategies for approaching the overall querying task can be find in my post here: http://asserttrue.blogspot.com/2012/10/strategies-for-querying-literary-agents.html

Chantilly's How To Tutorials said...

Alot of great and beneficial information thanks Nathan.

Janet Piper said...

Hello Nathan,

I clicked a link and my antivirus popped up and told me to beware of the spyware on your site. I'm sure you have not put it there, but you should probably check it out.

...and thanks for all the good advice. I will send you a query and schmooze professionally thanks to you.



Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks Janet, which link did you click on?

Kristina Rodman said...

Do you recommend sending sample pages of your novel that are not chronological? For example, if I wanted to send a few different pages from different chapters, would that be alright?

Kristina Rodman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristina Rodman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan Bransford said...

kritina-

It should be the first five pages.

Unfortunately I can't critique individual queries, but there's a section of the discussion Forums where you can get feedback: http://forums.nathanbransford.com

Though FYI "What Should I Do With My Life" isn't a novel and the author's name is Po Bronson.

Kristina Rodman said...

Alright. Thank You for your help.

Anonymous said...

I have completed my first novel and have written it in third person omniscient with several characters and head-jumps among characters. There is also shifts between the third person POV and epistolary part (diary recordings). How do you suggest I should prepare the query letter? Should I omit some characters and only elucidate on the main protagonist? The novel is over 90000 words. Thank you. By the way, great post.

Anonymous said...

I have completed my first novel and have written it in third person omniscient with several characters and head-jumps among characters. There is also shifts between the third person POV and epistolary part (diary recordings). How do you suggest I should prepare the query letter? Should I omit some characters and only elucidate on the main protagonist? The novel is over 90000 words. Thank you. By the way, great post.

Moscoboy said...

I wrote a good manuscript and followed it up with querycide. How long should I wait before I re-query the same manuscript to the same agents?

Eileen M said...

Thank you in advance for your fantastic, enjoyable tips on this godawful process. I'm scared enough to write this personal book about having a social disease, but now that I've got my courage summoned, I'll need it to get through the process of finding an agent and writing the query. I'm thrilled Google pointed me to you; you seem kind as well.

Anonymous said...

How are you Nathan. My name is Robert Clervoix and I am already a published writer with Trafford Publishing. Book Title: Emotions in Motions/To Rise Above

Pen Name is: Robert Louis Mir'Beau.

Would you get in touch with me via Email so I can ask few questions as I am reading these Posts I can see you know what you are doing.

I am currently working on second manuscript and dont want to publish till I get an audience as both my first and second books are from hard work from my heart and soul.

Please contact when possible at your earliest convenient.

Email: RobertClervoix@hotmail.com

Best regards;

Robert Clervoix

Lisa said...

Hi Nathan,

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to thank you for it (and the examples of good queries). I just sent out my first batch of queries yesterday and today. I received my first rejection a few minutes ago, but it was at least a nice rejection with some good feedback, and I am pretty confident it had nothing to do with my query.

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