Random Q’s…. A’d

by | Apr 16, 2007 | Literary Agents | 11 comments

I received yet another query today without any contact information at all. So if anyone sent me a query and thinks they might have neglected to include even the most rudimentary of contact information, keep your eyes to the sky around 4:30, when I will spell out my standard rejection in smoke signals.

In other news, I’ve been receiving some very good questions on the Absolute Write Message Board, and since I’m told recycling is good for the environment, I thought I’d save some pixels and bytes and re-use the questions here with slightly expanded answers. And please, save your congratulations for my environmental philanthropy. I’m just one guy doing my part.

Q: Here is my question: I just got my first rejection off my full mss read and with it came some very helpful feedback. I have three other agents reading the full mss, and am now launching into a revision because dang it all, that first agent’s input is spot on. After I revise the manuscript, is it okay for me to approach the agents reading the full mss (If I have not heard back from them yet – They all three are well-established and have reputations for having a long turn-around time with mss) and offer them the revised version, or does that scream “UNPROFESSIONAL”? If this is okay to do, is there a proper protocol as to how to do this?

If you’re going to send an agent a new draft to read, the key is catching them soon enough so that they haven’t gotten to the manuscript and thus can just substitute the new manuscript for the old — so, say, in a week, or two, tops. There is nothing greater in the Department of Irk than getting halfway or more through a manuscript and then the author says, “Just kidding!” and wants me to read another draft. Close behind in Irkland is when someone pulls a manuscript to work on it more after I’m already halfway through. Because of that, since there’s probably no way you could complete the revisions in time, I’d just let it go with the two agents who have the manuscript. (Note: the rules are always different with clients)

And who knows, maybe one or both of them will think it’s perfect. The next time two people in publishing agree on a manuscript will be the first time.

Q: If the agent who declined my full mss did not mention that it would be acceptable to resubmit after revision, is it okay to resubmit to that agent again after making the changes? I fear coming across tacky and obnoxious if I ask for a second chance. I don’t want to ruin this agent’s view of me in case I end up querying again sometime in the future with another book.

When I am willing to reconsider a revised manuscript I’m very very clear about it. I tell people, “I’d be happy to take a look at another draft” or something along those lines. When I don’t specifically say that I’m open to a new draft it means I’ve made my decision, and I’m afraid that I won’t reconsider. As a general rule I don’t reconsider something I’ve passed on, because, as you can imagine, it’s enough work to keep up with all of the first time queries I get let alone all the ones that would flood in if I considered revisions.

That said, after you’ve completed the revision I don’t see the harm in thanking the agent for the suggestions, say you revised the material and feel the work is much stronger, and say that you appreciate their time but wonder if they’d take another look. At worst they’re just going to say no, but who knows, maybe they’ll be persuaded to look again.

Q: When you get a contract from a publisher who wants exclusive rights to a piece of fiction and for a limited time (let’s say two months) what exactly does that mean?

Exclusivity means that you are giving a publisher the right to print and sell your material exclusively for a certain period of time, in this case, two months. If you’re granting exlusivity, those rights can’t be otherwise encumbered, so you couldn’t, say, grant someone rights to your work and then two months later grant another publisher exclusive rights. Exclusive is exclusive.

The term of exclusivity begins when the contract is executed (or at time of publication, depending on the contract), and at that time you execute the contract you have to guarantee that those rights are free and clear. And yes, once the rights revert back you could re-sell those rights to another publisher. You could have published the story before, as long as you have the rights back and as long as you can guarantee the new publisher exclusivity. This means that the story could exist in already-printed books, but the previous publisher couldn’t be actively selling those copies. You are essentially giving the publisher the exclusive right to sell your work.

Don’t forget, at 4:30 keep your eyes peeled for my standard rejection letter in smoke form!


  1. Len

    And all this time I thought this was a nonsmoking blog.

  2. brian_ohio

    Will it say “Surrender Dorothy” or have you come up with something orginal.

    Nice of you to recycle.

  3. Anonymous

    I have some questions about following up on partials, Sir Nathan, if you would be so kindeth to respondeth.

    If you’ve read a requested partial but you put it aside to consider it further, how long do you generally wait before revisiting it?

    When would you prefer that writers who have sent you requested partials follow up, if it’s been more than two months (if at all)?


  4. Nathan Bransford


    I don’t usually put aside a partial to reconsider further – I make a decision on the spot. If I want to read more I request it, otherwise I pass.

    I almost always send an author an update e-mail if I am keeping them waiting for over three weeks. I certainly would not mind if someone sent a polite e-mail to inquire about the status of their manuscript if I haven’t responded in 30 days. Sometimes things happen to files or an e-mail doesn’t get through, so I definitely appreciate it when people check in, as long as it’s done politely and via e-mail.

  5. Liz

    A query without contact info..sounds like a brain cramp of the first sort.

    Thanks for sharing your recycled stuff. I always mean to scan that site, but often the day’s events just don’t allow it.

  6. Jillian

    May I ask a loosely related question?

    How do you feel about an agent’s responding to a requested full via a photocopied form letter?

    Form letters are certainly appropriate as responses to initial queries. But a full? A requested full? At least a smoke signal message would have been more personal.

    (Obviously I’ve got some emotional baggage attached to this one…)

  7. Nathan Bransford


    Yeah, I know that’s frustrating. But I can honestly say that sometimes I wish I could put to one thing and say “this is why I’m rejecting this,” but that isn’t always possible. Sometimes it’s just not for me, and it’s really difficult to point to one thing.

    Now, that said, I try and customize responses for fulls, but I can also see the perspective of the agent on this one. When you’re already working weekends and reading at night and trying to balance a pretty much 24/7 job with a personal life, I could see how a personalized response to a full could be one of the things you cut corners on.

    It’s frustrating, but dust yourself off and keep on going! It doesn’t mean they hated your work or they didn’t consider it, it just means they’re busy.

  8. Jillian

    That was a very balanced answer, Nathan — thank you. Too bad you don’t rep my genre. 😉

    Thing is, I’ve also received rejections on 2 requested partials, and both rejections were personalized. Not twelve-page disserations, but brief, polite rejections with a line or two of why my story wasn’t “working” for them. I don’t know, it was just more…human.

    But thank you, yes, I’ve already dusted myself off, having learned long ago to keep moving on. I’ve currently got 3 other partials out there, which hopefully will not end up as form letters.

  9. Laura Ware

    I am one of those who emailed a query, worked on writing it just right – and realized after I sent it I had not put any contact information other than my email address.

    After waffling, I send another email with the contact information. Hopefully this isn’t the height of impropriety.

    Yes, I did a stupid thing. Do I get burned at the stake?

  10. Nathan Bransford


    Don’t sweat it. For the record, I count an email address as sufficient contact information. When I talk about people not including contact information I mean people who send in queries through the mail and don’t include a return address or an email address. Those go into a “special” file. Believe it or not it’s a thick one.


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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