Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Query Letter for JACOB WONDERBAR

It's How I Write week here on the blog as we gear up for the release of JACOB WONDERBAR on May 12th. Monday: How I Write. Tuesday: How I Edit. Today: My Query Letter and How I Found an Agent. Thursday: Why I Chose a Traditional Publisher. Friday: This Week in Books

Please stick around!

Before I get to my query letter, let me answer two oft-asked questions: Yes, I needed an agent even though I was an agent at the time, and yes, I had to send out query letters the old-fashioned way.

I sent queries out to seven or eight agents, some of whom I knew personally, some of whom (like Catherine Drayton, my now-agent), I knew only by reputation. I chose to query Catherine because she represents one of my favorite books, The Book Thief, and I had heard great things about her.

So I sent out my query, got a few rejections, Catherine and a few other agents asked to see partials/fulls, and when Catherine called to offer representation a few weeks later I knew we were a match. She really got the book, I liked the changes she suggested for the manuscript, and I really got the sense that she has a ton of integrity, which was one of the most important qualities I was looking for in an agent.

And, yup. When I was writing my query I used the mad lib formula, personalized the query, and kept it under 300 words. I practice what I preach, people. (For a complete guide to writing a query letter, see this post)

Now for the query. Here goes...

Dear Ms. Drayton,

As a young literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. I have long admired Inkwell, as well as your strong track record. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if you searched for a book that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike THE BOOK THIEF (which I absolutely loved), you might just have JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle-grade-and-up science fiction novel that I just completed. Still fun! But no one dies - Mr. Death would be lonely.

Jacob Wonderbar has been the bane of every substitute teacher at Magellan Middle School ever since his dad moved away from home. He never would have survived without his best friend Dexter, even if he is a little timid, and his cute-but-tough friend Sarah Daisy, who is chronically overscheduled. But when the trio meets a mysterious man in silver one night they trade a corn dog for his sassy spaceship and blast off into the great unknown. That is, until they break the universe in a giant space kapow and a nefarious space buccaneer named Mick Cracken maroons Jacob and Dexter on a tiny planet that smells like burp breath. The friends have to work together to make it back to their little street where the houses look the same, even as Earth seems farther and farther away.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW is 50,000 words and stands alone, but I have ideas for a series, including titles such as JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE and JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE VACATIONING ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET. I'm the author of an eponymous agenting and writing blog.

I'd be thrilled if you would consider WONDERBAR for representation, and a few other agents are considering simultaneously. Thanks very much, and hope to talk to you soon.

Nathan Bransford

And it worked! Tomorrow: more about the path to publication and why I chose to go with a traditional publisher.

JACOB WONDERBAR is available for sale at:

Amazon!
Barnes & Noble!
Books-a-Million!
Borders!
Indiebound!
Powell's!






79 comments:

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm querying today, so this is ultra-timely! Thanks for sharing!

Bane of Anubis said...

Seems like you might know a thing or 2 about querying :)

Istvan Szabo, Ifj. said...

Thanks for sharing, Nathan!

Mr. D said...

I'd like to query my oldest son. LIke, hey, buddy, how 'bout you clean your room!

Timothy Nies said...

So unfair how well this works...my letter doesn't flow half as well as this one does. Well then, back to the drawing board to polish the query letter yet again.

Great letter though, thanks for posting it.

D. U. Okonkwo said...

A neat and tidy query. And those ones are usually the hardest to pull off. I think it’s important to remember that we can get help with queries. Sometimes you can feel that you need to do it all on your own. Query writing takes objectivity, and it’s a good skill to learn for ourselves.

I got help from my friend with my query, and suddenly I started feeling the love from agents. It took a while but I suddenly started getting requests.

patti wigington said...

Any letter that includes "corn dog" should be an automatic request for a full.

The Lemonade Stand said...

That's an awesome query. It actually made me want to read the book even more. I think I'm going to rethink my query letter again. And I don't know if you'll answer this, but you mentioned the fact that you had ideas for a sequel in the letter. Do you recommend that? Because my story is the same. It can stand alone, but I am working on sequels. Thanks for the posts Nathan!

Nathan Bransford said...

lemonade stand-

Thanks! And yeah, here's my post on mentioning series in a query.

Francis Tuohy said...

Thanks for the post. There are so may "rules," about querying that I am often left pulling my hair out to try and stike a blance between tride and trusted template and showing my own character and style of writing. I think that the point of everything I've read (including this blog) is that if you have a book with a concept that really works the query writes itself. a great query wont sell a bad book!

Chris Phillips said...

In your post about your writing process, I believe you said you sent an outline to your editor, and then wrote it. Here you said it is complete. Did you mean like a beta reader, or an actual editor?
I'm also surprised you didn't open with the pitch. Thanks for sharing!

Nathan Bransford said...

Chris-

The outline was for Book #2, which became JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE.

And yeah, I personally have always thought that leading with personalization is the best strategy, but opinions vary on that.

Nathan Bransford said...

chris-

Oh, and I meant my actual editor, Kate Harrison at Dial.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I am in total awe at the succintness of this, how the voice comes through and how "you" it is, while giving a hell of a sell for your story.

I have a multi-pov commercial/literary (book club fiction) novel and the query is kicking my butt. Do you think that a book with multiple povs can still be summed up in one para?? I guess my real question is SHOULD it be?

salarsenッ said...

Thanks for sharing this!!

Barbara Kloss said...

I agree with Patti..you had me at "corndog".

Thank you so much for sharing this! Not to go and fix my own...

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Thanks! JACOB WONDERBAR is told at various points from each of the main characters' perspectives (though it's third person). So the important thing is to synthesize the essence of the story and don't worry about conveying each voice.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks for sharing, Nathan. It's interesting: I often hear people advise against putting a lot of character names into the query, yet you've done that -- and it makes perfect sense. Should we discount such advice or recognize that rules are made to be broken?

Sierra McConnell said...

You know, it's hard with query lettering. Everywhere you go, you're told to do it differently. I know I've read it somewhere (though it has been a while, I've not thought to query in a few months) that you're not supposed to do what you did in the first paragraph. Mentioning old books that the agent represented, trying to joke with the agent ("being cute"), and quoting, as it's terribly cliche and overdone.

I guess it goes to show that no one knows just how to do a query letter "right", and you just have to write it from your gut.

*It was either Query Shark or the NaNo Forums that I saw that at, as those are the two places I was reading up on them at. Or it could have been the book 'How to Write a Query Letter'...

Matthew MacNish said...

The voice in this query is so fun, which I'm sure matches your story perfectly.

I've seen parts of this before, when you covered different versions of your pitches, but it's nice to see it all in one place.

And it's funny to see that you referred to yourself as a "young" agent. I know you meant career-wise, but it's still kind of endearing, and I think it speaks to your humility.

Bravo, Nathan.

Loree Huebner said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Deborah Blake Dempsey said...

First, congratulations. I can't wait to read your book. Second, this is fantastic. Not only to see the mad lib form, but to see it work and so well. What I just read is what I would expect to read on the back cover of the book. This is a great guide to get me on track with my own query and I will be going back to my old ones to see how off I really was.

kevin Lynn Helmick said...

Chris-Nathan
Yeah I think the first paragraphed pulled her in. As an agent, it's possible she had heard of you too.
Nathan
I like the easy flow, informal speech (but not too informal.)
And you cover it all really well.
Most of my projects have a complex plot and theme that I'm tempted to explain, probably a mistake.
This helps, thanks for this. It'll be a few months before I'm querying again, and it seems every editor/publisher, wants it the way they want it, but all the (accepted) samples I can find certainly help.
Thanks
I hope it's huge success.

The Lemonade Stand said...

thanks Nathan! I am TOTALLY revamping my query now. You are so helpful and I hope you know how grateful we all are for it. :)

Carrie Filetti said...

1st...great query! 2nd...it's refreshing to know that someone like yourself still has to query agents & you even got rejections. Best of luck with your book! I know my son is going to LOVE it! :)

Robena Grant said...

What impresses me most in your query letter, is that your voice shines through. You sound just like you do on the blog. I think it works for you to write a first paragraph like that, but for those of us without a foot in the publishing world it probably would not work. Right?

Yamile said...

I'm printing this out right now to dissect it and learn from it! Thanks so much!

Sean said...

Awesome query, Nathan! No wonder mine never worked.

Sommer Leigh said...

I'm blown away by now much "you" is in this query. It flows effortlessly, it is fun and cute without being obnoxious and overdone, and it hooks the book without getting in to too many details.

Of course you know this already, but what I mean to say is, despite how easy and fun this is to read I know it isn't this easy to write. I'm just curious, but how long did it take you to write this and how many times did you edit and rewrite it?

Thermocline said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been wondering about your query ever since you let us know you were going to be published.

Marion said...

Clicked on your Mad Lib Query Letter link & got totally sidetracked. Having an LOL time over there in the crazy comments. Will consider & learn from your actual query letter when I finish reading the other stuff & laughing like an idiot. (Learning from the Mad Lib stuff too of course.)

Nathan Bransford said...

sommer-

I actually don't remember how long it took me to write, it's been a few years since I wrote it. I want to say I wrote it out in my head first and then went through a few drafts on the page.

Anonymous said...

So much easier to get an agent if you are an agent and you could joke around because you were peers. Be unprofessional for an unknown.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Not sure I agree. I wasn't joking around about anything personal or pretending I knew her, just joking about the comparison between my book and THE BOOK THIEF.

Take a look at Lisa Brackmann's query for ROCK PAPER TIGER, she joked about hating the Lakers because she knew I was a Kings fan.

Don't be afraid to be yourself!

Jill Thomas said...

Thank you so much for posting this, my friend and I were just wondering the other day why writers don't post their queries. I have been struggling with the wording for simultaneously querying, and you offered the perfect solution. Thanks, Nathan!

Jordan McCollum said...

How do you tell if an agent has integrity? (Some sort of shibboleth question?) I'd love to know!

stacy said...

You often do great posts, Nathan, but these past three have been more informative and helpful than ever. Thanks for authoring such a great blog!

catherinemjohnson said...

It's awesome of you to share this with us. And it's a great example, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you mentioned you're the "author" of a blog.

I never thought about being the "author" of my blog. I just consider it something I do for fun...something cathartic.

But it works. Bloggers are, in fact, authors. For me the interesting part is I seriously never realized this until I read this post.

Kathryn Paterson said...

I love the ideas for the series--and the titles are hilarious! And while I don't write YA, The Book Thief is one of my favorite books too!

Great letter, Nathan! Thanks so much for sharing it. I've been working on mine and it feels like taking tweezers and pulling out my arm hair. ;)

Rane Anderson said...

I like it!

Ashley said...

This is extremely helpful and motivating! Thanks Nathan!

BP said...

Haha My favorite part about this query besides the perfected formula and awesome story you are selling is pretty much where you just come out in the first part and say that you are an awesome agent of awesomeness and you can kick awesome in the publishing world. Yeah, I'm sold!!! :D

Stephsco said...

"A stand alone with ideas for a series" is so simple but works wonderfully. Great job. I love the book idea and the Douglas Adams shout-out.

Munk said...

For Book #3 I am glad you are defining the aliens as hailing from another planet. Without that vital piece of info people might think it is a political thriller.

Excellent post BTW, I will put it to use.

Liesl said...

My favorite word in the whole query: eponymous. I will try to use that in a sentence daily.

D.G. Hudson said...

I like your approach to query letters, and used it previously to craft my own.

Writing a query letter forced me to sit down and pinpoint the basic elements (which gave me theme, pitch line material, and also helped with the synopsis).

Thanks for sharing these tips with us, Nathan.

PS - It's so nice to see information freely given. A lot of authors have writing books, and you probably could too, Nathan, but instead (at least currently) you share this knowledge. It shows what a great guy you are.

Much appreciation coming at you from me. (Hmmm - sounds vaguely Yoda-ish.)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

That's a stellar letter!

Looking for integrity...I so get that.

Thanks for sharing this. It's cool to learn more about how things went for you.
~ Wendy

Jennifer Malise said...

You sold me at "sassy spaceship" : P

Rebecca Kiel said...

I've read many sample query letters and studied Query Shark's site. There are certainly different ways to write a good query but this one is smooth. It feels natural and well-composed, as we could expect it to. When I started querying, making my letter flow but be concise took some time and a good deal of effort. Thank you for offering your query letter as a good example.

Akila said...

Nathan, Thank you, thank you for sharing this! I will be querying next month and it is so helpful to read letters that work. I loved this letter and especially the corn dog part - you get right from the letter that it's going to be a fun book. One question: I am planning on following your advice on suggesting that the book could be the first in a series and I know what I want the second book to be called, just like you had suggested titles here. Do you think including a suggested title is a good idea? Obviously, it worked for you but do you know if your agent appreciated receiving suggested titles?

traceybaptiste said...

It's always interesting to see successful query letters, because sometimes it's hard to walk that line between the personal and professional, which as you've shown, a good query letter has.

Thanks for sharing.

Wendy F said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! I have been struggling with writing a query letter and finding a way to sum up my novel and make the best presentation. After reading your post, I believe that I need to revisit my book and edit it again. I truly think it will be a much better story after the ideas you have given me. Thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Outstanding.

Anonymous said...

Now if I can only work in 'eponymous' and 'nefarious' into my query letter, maybe I'll have something... ;-) It obviously worked a treat. Thanks for sharing.

Livia said...

I'm amused and impressed by how you managed to make "Yeah, my book is nothing like one of the books you represented" into a compelling personalized beginning.

Lauren said...

Well done, Nathan! Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Nathan,

This is a very good query but I wonder if you can look at it objectively and speak on a) whether you as an agent would have read this and been interested and why and b) whether a non-agent querier with this same project would have received the same attention.

Again, definitely not taking a shot, genuinely curious.

Kristi Helvig said...

Thanks for sharing this, Nathan. I loved your line about The Book Thief (one of my faves too). Your query is so good, I'm surprised you had any rejections at all.

J. T. Shea said...

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE VACATIONING ALIENS FROM ANOTHER PLANET!? I can hardly wait!

Careful querying your kids, Mr. D, you could get a form rejection, or no response could mean no.

Patti Wiginton, corndogs! That's it! I knew my trilogy lacked something. Corndogs and space monkeys!

Munk, aliens come from another planet? No wonder they're illegal.

I notice nobody's asked what a Cosmic Space Kapow actually is. Not that I'M asking or anything. Maybe the answer is too far out of this world for our merely human brains to absorb. Or maybe it's 32.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon@5:20-

No, I wouldn't have requested a partial if I queried myself because I didn't represent middle grade science fiction.

And yes, I do think I had an advantage being an agent in the business. I don't think it was the difference between me getting published and not getting published (if all it took was me being an agent my first and still unpublished novel would have gotten off the ground), but I do think it helped me get in the door. I talk more about it here.

Hanny said...

Thanks for all of your great help. You just can't find the writing advice you need sometimes unless it's from someone who's "been there."

Mira said...

This is truly the best query I have ever read.

It's highly personalized. Even the humor is highly personalized. And it's funny and flows well. The confidence is clear. It's smart and saavy. But most importantly, this has voice. A great voice.

Nathan, if you ever give up your social media gig, and then your book trailer maker gig, and then your editor gig, you could make a bundle writing queries for people.

You know, I'm sure that being an agent helped you, but your query is so good, and you are such a good writer, that it probably just made the process go abit faster. Someone would have snapped you up pronto regardless.

Thank you for sharing this! It's terrific.

word wanderer said...

Well, the letter certainly worked on my 5th grade daughter and 8th grade son - they both want to read the book (if you hadn't had them already, you won them over by trading corn dogs for spaceships)!

Mira said...

One more thing - I really doubted that it was possible to write a query letter with a humorous voice and still have it be professional.

I am impressed and really appreciate this example. I really doubted it could be done.

wendy said...

Loved the query and the agent must have been rather thrilled to receive such a witty, fun and succinct submissive. Here's a query from me: why did you use the comma in the last sentence? Is it because the 'I' is understood and therefore still two independent clauses?

Nathan Bransford said...

wendy-

Because I'm a terrible copyeditor.

Anonymous said...

I do understand that you didn't rep your kind of novel but I'm still curious as to whether, as a former professional and who knows the ropes of what works and what doesn't etc, if you can tell whether you would have - pretending you actually did rep middle grade fiction - asked for a partial and why.

I agree that being an agent isn't the answer, your unpubbed novel being the proof, but I was wondering if you, for example, would be more open to a book query received from someone like yourself, when you were agenting, and whether that would make a difference. I will read through the link.

Anon 520

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

Well, it's kind of a hard question to answer. I mean, I wrote my query to my own specifications so yeah, if it wasn't me writing the query and it was a genre I represented I think I would have gone for it.

Arief Zainal said...

Nice. I am about to write my own query letter when a kind soul referred me to this post.

Will be using that mad lib for my own query letter if you don't mind.

Thanks :)

Christina Lucas said...

I totally agree w/Mira...I like to be funny and personal when networking, but I also don't want to come off as unprofessional whenever I get to the query. This is a very good example for me. Thanks! Shared it on FB. My writer's digest and blogger buddies appreciate it!:)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Great query. The beginning is humorous and personalized without being unprofessional or butt-kissing.

I like that you pointed out that you did get rejections. Too often we think that one must have connections to the industry to succeed. Maybe they helped in your case, beyond giving you inside knowledge of what's desired, but still, you didn't get an unbroken streak of full requests. The connections weren't everything. Rather, you were judged on your query and your work, and if we did just as well, we could experience the same success.

JM Leotti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JM Leotti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JM Leotti said...

Fantastic example of a query. This was very helpful, although I think I might play it a little safer my first time out. I guess I won't know until I actually write it.

Have I said this before? I'm really enjoying this series and learning so much. But I always learn something new every time I come here. :) Thanks so much for sharing!

(Sorry for the deleted posts. I don't know why blogger posted doubles.)

Sheila Cull said...

Wow. That's the best query I've ever read, out of lots, AND, I learned a lot.

see, i'm so lucky that i just read it, and now, with free time to re read and then Save in a Bransford folder. yeah! i'm lucky.

CONGRATULATIONS BRANSFORD!

Anonymous said...

thank you very much, I knew that my query letter was not the best. Back to working on it

Emily Hill said...

Not to put too fine a point on it, but, errr...Could I use YOUR name?

Nathan Bransford doing a query letter is as rich as it is amusing. See kids how it's done?

According to Kristen Nelson, her bot-watch email account took in 36,000 email'ed queries in 2010. She chose THREE to represent; 3:36,000. Those odds are NOT out of the norm, nowadays. Check out her interview with Dawn Tevy of Angels & Warriors on BlogTalk Radio. Then Get Real, Go Indie!

Anonymous said...

Ummmm, wasn't it a bit easier to get your agent since you were once one yourself?

lol if only it were that easy for the rest of us... :/

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