by | Sep 11, 2008 | Writing Advice | 89 comments

Holy Tyra! Thanks so much to the Blogger team for making this today’s Blog of Note, and a warm welcome to everyone visiting for the first time. We talk about books, reality TV shows, publishing, monkeys, writing, and Cormac McCarthy, not necessarily in that order.

If you’re a writer (and really, who isn’t these days?) be sure and check out the Essentials on the right side of the page, and especially the FAQs.


I’ve blogged previously about my love of the VH1 show Behind the Music, and honestly, the Very Special Episode on Milli Vanilli is one of the most cherished hours I have ever spent watching television. However, there is one phrase that some people use in query letters that never fails to remind me of the tragic lives of Fab Morvan and Rob Pilatus as documented by a serious narrator on Behind the Music. And that phrase is “is shattered.”

“Is shattered” is used a lot in query letters. Here’s just a short list of some of the things that I have seen “shattered” in a query letter.

– Someone’s faith in the world
– Someone’s sense of complacency
– Someone’s optimistic outlook
– Someone’s heterosexuality

On the one hand this is good — if something is shattering, it suggests that something is going wrong, which means the book probably has a plot. Plot is good.

On the other hand, “is shattered” is kind of a cliche, and here’s why I would hesitate to recommend that people use it.

1) It’s passive. “Nathan’s day is shattered when he finds out Lauren Conrad sold a book and he wasn’t the agent.” The passive voice is found in your query!
2) It’s vague. What does “is shattered” mean anyway? It’s very nonspecific, and when every word counts, it’s important to use words that count.
3) Agents see it so often. You couldn’t have known this, so as with anything else, don’t feel bad if you used it, and there’s no way I passed on your query just because you shattered something in your query. And I’m sure “is shattered,” as with anything else, has been used effectively sometime somewhere.

So in sum: be careful with “is shattered.” If you do, in the immortal words of the Behind the Music narrator, “it all came crashing down.”


  1. Dan

    After the Kings traded Artest – any hopes Sacramento fans had of making the playoffs were shattered.

    Congrats on the blog props – get ready for even more queries!

  2. Andrew

    My entire approach to querying is shattered.

  3. 7-iron

    what could be more vague than something shattered? something seemingly shattered.

    “After the fall of their quarterback, the Patriots’ season seemed shattered.”

  4. Grafxgurl

    its such a dramatic expression!!
    ‘course if you hear it too often then its a bit like smashing plates and not like someone’s day was just ruined!!! 😀
    first time here bloghopping through!!
    congrats on being top of the list on Blogger!!

  5. meryl's musings

    Congratulations for being the Blog of Note today. Looks like you’ve got some interesting information — I’ll be back! In the meantime, check out my blog if you are interested in reading about the upcoming MotoGP in Indianapolis this weekend.

  6. Anonymous Gimp

    You know what would be great?

    Query letter:

    One man finds his word turned upside down after it was previously right side up when his faith in the glass and window industry is shattered… LITERALLY!!!

    / End /

    What do you think, Nathan? Would you represent it?

  7. Dan

    Nathan’s hopes of making the NBA were obliterated when he did not receive a phone call on draft day from David Stern.

    As he sat alone at home trying to figure out how to put his life back together, his mind drifted back to a pick-up game he played earlier that summer. His lifelong dream now resembled those jagged pieces of glass that rained on him when someone shattered the backboard while posterizing him with an awe inspiring one-handed dunk. Though Nathan’s team lost that game (thanks to his lousy jump shot!), Nathan bounced back, more determined than ever to succeed.

    Read the entirey story of how Nathan became a successful blogger and literary agent in my 320,000 word epic: EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING I LEARNED FROM SPORTS.

  8. m clement hall

    “is shattered” is hyperbole.

    If Cormac McCarthy is a subject for comment: I’d love to know how he gets away with his disdain for punctuation.

  9. Geoff Schutt

    Nathan, my first visit to your site, and my congrats on being the “blog of note.” Eleanor and I will continue reading your words in the days and weeks to come.
    — Geoff

    As for today, Eleanor wants me to tell you that she is searching for three words between “H” and “Z” as part of her continuing narrative.

    And this September especially, 51 years after “On The Road,” Eleanor responds to Kerouac’s words, and becomes a reflection of the “mad ones,” which is freedom — and survival.

    Eleanor exists at:

  10. Heidi the Hick

    Oh, I’ve been shattered!

    Then I came to my senses and got unshattered before it all came crashing down.

    (bout time the blogger team discovered you!)

  11. Dori

    Well, drat, my brilliant query strategy is shattered.

  12. Mighty Mom

    Congratulations, Nathan! You deserve it. I’ve been following your blog for weeks now and only wish I found it sooner. When I finally land an agent you’ll have played a hand in getting me there. Thanks for caring enough about your industry to blog about it. It’s appreciated

  13. dmitry

    Отличній блог! Спасибо мне очень понравился!

  14. Anonymous

    You have absolutely shattered my complacency, not to mention my ennui and solipsism. I have reviewed my queries and I was devastated, bemused, titillated and darn-right flummoxed by the inadvertant cliches running rampant through them like chickens with their heads cut off. I am, in a word, kerfluffled by your observation. Chastened, even.

  15. Anonymous

    m clement hall: Cormac McCarthy likely can get away with any darn thing he pleases. He’s arguably the greatest living american writer today. It tends to give him some leeway.

  16. Julie Weathers

    1) It’s passive. “Nathan’s day is shattered when he finds out Lauren Conrad sold a book and he wasn’t the agent.”

    Nathan, I know you say query you first, but I have a question. With your dynamic web presence, you have to be swamped with queries. Does this maxim still hold true?

    Congratulations on the recognition!

    To the new visitors, yes, the archives are a treasure trove of information.

  17. Conduit

    Us regulars don’t need no stinkin’ Blogger big-wig to tell us this is a Blog of Note, but hearty congratulations nonetheless.

  18. Dwacon®

    Congrats on being blog du jour. Many are called but truly few are chosen.

    My world was shattered when I saw none of my blogs were chosen.

    Just kidding…

  19. Kimberly Lynn

    What if we said “shattered” but linked it to a list of alternative words? Maybe even add the sound of crashing glass . . .

    You could click on the link over and over again to break up the monotony of generic queries.

  20. Joy

    Thanks for the welcome, and congrats on your “blogs of note” recognition!

  21. Kim


    Great post and thank you.

    LOL — I thought you were just using the “shattering” example of Lauren Conrad penning a book and not choosing you as her agent – but it’s true! At least the book deal part.
    Geez, if she only knew what she was missing.
    Silly girl.

  22. Marilyn Peake

    Congratulations, Nathan, on having this site named a Blog of Note. I only recently discovered your Blog, and now pop in here every day. There’s so much wonderful information here, and always interesting discussions going on.

    The other day, I was surfing the Internet, going from one writing site to another, and suddenly felt like I was swimming in a sea of books as far as the eye could imagine. I’m guessing the chance for repetition of individual words, themes, etc. must be greatly increased with so many people able to write and submit books on computers these days. I wonder if the word “shattered” arrived more sparingly on agents’ desks, when submissions had to be typed on typewriters and sent via snail mail.

  23. Erik

    Very good post. I’ve been thinking of taking on another over-used word, “Rockstar” for my own blog. What do these words actually mean when the rubber hits the road?

    (use of cliche for sarcastic effect)

  24. miked

    I’m excited to have found your blog. Thankful to blogger for making it a blogs of note. Thank you for your insight and advice. Now I have to catch up on past posts.

  25. Elizabeth Marie

    “Is shattered” – love that. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it on a book flap. Great post!

  26. lotusloq

    Finally to get the recognition you deserve! Your blog is fan-blooming-tastic! The best blog of note. I wish I had found it ages ago. At least now I know a bit more about what I’m supposed to be doing. Still working on perfecting it. I going to be at that for a long time.

    btw, is that the piggly wiggly pig on your shirt in your profile pic? One more reason for receiving the blog of note. haha!

  27. Nathan Bransford


    Thanks so much, very nice of you to say!

    And yup — definitely a Piggly Wiggly shirt from Apalachicola, Florida.

  28. Scott

    Cormac McCarthy probably gets away with his disdain for punctuation because it fits his subject matter so well. It’s like he scratches his stories right into the desert floor. Wait, can the desert have a floor? I bet in McCarthy’s novels it can.

    Anyway, congrats Nathan, and thanks for the tip.

  29. Gwen

    LOL. Nathan, you are so amusing.

    I am almost fond of the “is shattered” phrase. It reminds me of a mirror being smashed to pieces, and you have to either clean it up, try and make sense of the mess, or try and put it back together. I enjoy the imagery of a mirror lying in shards on the floor.

    I am not, however, fond of the passive voice. My English faculty at my particular university makes it well known that if an English student EVER uses the passive voice in an essay, it will result in mark deduction. High price to pay, but only using the active voice makes your writing seem more immediate, more powerful.


  30. Liza Knight

    Congrats on becoming a blog of note!

  31. lindsey-leavitt

    Ah, really? Just a faint nod for LC? I read the blurb today and my first instinct was to check your blog for reactions. For example, this exact same YA book has already been published by another Lauren (Barnholdt) called Reality Chick–Simon Pulse I think.
    Guess I’ll just hold out for Spencer’s memoirs. I expect full coverage then.

    –Lindsey, who used a variation of shatters (crumbles) in her query and somehow managed to find her dream agent 🙂

  32. mwolters

    I cannot tell you how much I love that you used the phrase, “Nathan’s day is shattered when he finds out Lauren Conrad sold a book and he wasn’t the agent.” That’s why this is my favorite publishing/”The Hills” blog.

  33. Oberon

    ….congratulations on making blogs of note…..i wish i could get on blogs of note but…..apparently my material is too controversial….maybe it needs to be a book….we don’t censor books…..yet.

  34. ORION

    oh no.
    The space alien monkeys were shattered when they discovered a cat just out of rehab was writing their memoir…
    I was shattered when I read the first sentence of the query.
    A coming of age story both poignant and hilarious.
    Another DaVinci Code ala Harry Potter…

  35. Elyssa Papa

    Oh huge congrats, Nathan! That’s totally awesome and well-deserved.

    I just saw on the news today that LC has a three-book deal. Wow to that and reality tv in making people famous.

    Space monkeys. That always makes me laugh, for some odd reason.

  36. lotusloq

    I thought I recognized that hat and…and those ears! They definitely have that certain “Je ne sais quoi” that add to the up and coming agent’s mystique. 🙂

  37. 7-iron

    I just read “satisfying conclusion” on the back cover of a book.

    I really wanted to read this book but

    my hopes were dashed, my dreams were shattered, my pants were wetted.

    At least one of them is visual.

  38. Kylie

    Now that you mention it, I can think of numerous times in books (and movies) where the blurb contains “is shattered.” Cliche, but at least its not a rhetorical question.

    And I firmly believe Cormac McCarthy can do anything he wants. Awards will always find their magnet-like way to him regardless.

  39. Josephine Damian

    m clement hall: How about McCarthy’s disdain for plain, old fashioned story-telling basics – like something actually happening in the first few chapters of THE ROAD?

    Nathan, soon as I saw Lauren (!) got a book deal, I was shattered, and then I thought of you.

  40. Reader

    Thought you might be interested to try this new Blogger template as your blog template. It seems to suit your blog style well.

  41. Furious D

    None of my characters are ever shattered. They do the shattering.

    Congrats on the “Blog of Note” status.

    Don’t let it go to your head, leaving you intoxicated with fame. Because the last thing the world needs are Nathan Bransford upskirt shots all over the internet. 😉

  42. Adaora A.

    This is why I love this blog. It’s the little things. You never think that certain words are over used and you use them, thinking it’s going to catch your eye and yet you’ve seen it 1000 times. It’s great that you’re so explicit here. You honestly rock.

  43. A Paperback Writer

    This is the first time I’ve ever been a regular reader at a blog of note before it was made one. I feel so special. 🙂
    Congrats, Nathan.

  44. Maris Bosquet

    Vast congrats on catching Blogger’s eye!

  45. Anonymous

    And don’t even bother to google…the word shattered…it’s amazing what you’ll find. Even time Magazine is guilty of this sin.

  46. Real C'ville -  The Bubble Blog

    A lot of shareholders will be shattered when they discover Lehman Bros. Bank has sold itself, with help of Treasury Sec'ty Hank Paulson and the Fed, as stock will = zero….

    ….Which is what we was bloggin' about here in little ole Charlottesville, Virginia, where the housing bubble was late to pop.

    C'ville is home to John Grisham, Ann Beattie, Rita Mae Brown, John Casey, Charles Wright, Rita Dove, and many other writers, so of course we hopped on over here when we saw this was the Blog of Note.

    Good reading!

    Thanks & Cheers.

    (And if you're a customer of WaMu? Um, be sure to read the newspapers…or our blog. Click on the the death's head in the sidebar.)

  47. LindaBudz

    Heterosexuality? Really? That doesn’t even make sense to me.

    Congrats on the much-deserved nod, Nathan!

  48. Maris Bosquet

    Critics, too, appear to resort to “is shattered” under duress–I mean, deadline.

    Take this opening ‘graph from Janet Maslin’s book review in today’s New York Times:

    “Francine Prose’s novel ‘Goldengrove’ starts out sounding dangerously like one of those books about that summer. You know the drill: An innocently happy family IS SHATTERED [caps mine] by an abrupt accident, disease, divorce, suicide, kidnapping, affair or other cosmic game changer.”


  49. Nathan Bransford

    You see, I think Ms. Maslin used the phrase “is shattered” very intentionally there because she’s alluding to those cliches she lists.

  50. Alison

    I *knew* Lauren’s book deal would be making an appearance in your blog today! It was actually my first thought when I heard the news :).

  51. Elisabeth

    Your blog rocks! Glad to see it get some Blogger love.

  52. Polly Kahl

    Thank goddess I didn’t use the word Shattered in my query, because now maybe someone phenomenal will consider representing me. That Lauren may be smart and pretty but she’s a damn fool.

  53. Lady Glamis

    Thank you for the hint. Since I will be sending you a query on my first novel soon, it’s nice to know what you like and don’t like. Not that I want to kiss up!

    Gotta work on that personalizing…

  54. Jeanne

    Great inside information. Good to know in case I ever write a book about my shattered life. ha.
    I’m one of those people that is told they should write a book about their lives- all the time. Thanks to my very nutty family, lots of drama when I was a teen- and unusual experiences. Always try to explain to folks that I’m happily UN-shatterd, thank you very much, and not interested in being defined by the past by writing a book about it. I’d rather be defined by the awesome present. Besides- everyone has a story. Those “shattered lives” books must be a dime a dozen.
    Great blog.

  55. Maris Bosquet


    Ahhhh, I DO see. Now. The first time around, that string of cliches made me yech and flee the scene.

    On second reading, I appreciate what Ms. Maslin’s doing. But I still don’t think I’m going to read that book! (I’m just not into coming-of-age and smug attempts to disguise/elevate/reinvent the genre…Oh, excuse me. The Loved One just shattered my ego by whacking me on the head with a printout of my own smug attempt to disguise/elevate/reinvent the genre…)

  56. Tooj

    You have 61 comments with people finding ways to used “is shattered”? Hmmm. This blog fad just might be overrated. I was hoping to find more literary minds giving their two bits.

  57. Oh_bother

    I knew some folks from the UK who said someone was shattered if they were drunk, exhausted, etc. It was a while ago, though.

    “You look shattered.”

    Such a great expression.

  58. Debbie Haughland Chan

    Yours is the first “Blog of Note” I have ever looked at and what a pleasant surprise! I’ll be coming back.

  59. Twilights New Dawn


    I am a writer (ha, how many times have you heard that?) however that has little to do with why I’m writing in here.

    I saw your blogger on blogs of note and read what you had to say. You’re amusing and fun- at least in my opinion. I’ll more then likely watch your blog from here on because I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read thus far!

    Btw, my name is Erica (hi again)
    Have a good day and congrats on being featured. 🙂

  60. Rushking

    Thank you for pointing out “shattered” – at least I learn something today.

    from: Rushking

  61. Bhavin

    Hi Nathan… I was just going through my blog and surfing some other blogs where I found an interesting blog of yours. I think people like me need your help to showcase our writing talent. Being an Indian, you shall find plenty of writing talent but the resources to showcase them are really scanty. I wish more people get chance to publish the novels. I am a writer and have written a fiction novel. I would be happy if you can guide me somehow. Thanks again.


  62. BiggieKen

    I liked the “shattered” blog. I’ll probably be subscribing in a minute or two based on that one entry alone. It was funny and informative!

    What else have you got?

  63. Julie Weathers


    You have 61 comments with people finding ways to used “is shattered”? Hmmm. This blog fad just might be overrated. I was hoping to find more literary minds giving their two bits.

    Peruse the archives. This is a light-hearted blog, but it’s pretty amazing how much useful information sifts through. This place, Miss Snark’s and Janet Reid’s Query Shark archives are a crash course on query writing.

    Tips on how to approach agents, edits, genres etc abound. It’s the nuts-and-bolts stuff that is just good information without all the fluff.

  64. that girl

    thanks, and glad to be here! love your blog.

  65. Bombchell

    ha ha ha I think i lost it at holy tyra!!!

  66. ORION

    Nathan I did you the favor of translating the above comments…no need to thank me:

    Some group people are inquiring your whereabouts in all directions, added that will catch you not to forgive you lightly, their is called the God of Wealth, to call, the lead to call happiness smoothly! I had asked the worry, it has simply not liked you adding forever paid no attention to you to let me pass on you not to from do is full of affection! Also had the health to let me bring to seal the love letter to you, it unrequited loves you for a long time and chats to your life invariable video frequency, beautiful woman video frequency, chatroom

  67. Anonymous

    Nice. Congratulations

  68. Trish


  69. hyacinthgirl

    As for Lauren Conrad, if I wasn’t aware of the fact that Gyspy Rose Lee “wrote” and sold a novel, I’d be devastated. As it is, I’m nonplussed and experiencing ennui.

    But congrats on your blog recognition! Well deserved!

  70. David Mosley

    Ok, so I read through some of the comments on your blog and all I have to say is, “Wow”. It is amazing how many people will just simply say, you’re great, and have no substance. I don’t mean to demean those faithful followers who hang on your every word, but still I see this all the time in online reviews, sometimes the same words are used. “Great book,” “Amazing,” “A must read for everyone”. Maybe I’m a little disenchanted, who knows.
    That aside, you could probably do a whole blog just on various words and phrases that should be avoided not only for being hackneyed phrases (hackneyed being on that list but a favorite word of mine to describe the situation, along with chestnut), but also because there are better ways to make your idea do more than just jump off the page.
    A good read on certain words and phrases that our English teachers told us not to use but really are ok is Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins. If you have not read it, you should, you will laugh aloud. It is written by Theodore Bernstein.

  71. nona

    “All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter bout
    Shmatta, shmatta, shmatta — I cant give it away on 7th avenue
    This towns been wearing tatters (shattered, shattered)
    Work and work for love and sex
    Aint you hungry for success, success, success, success
    Does it matter? (shattered) does it matter?
    Im shattered.

    – Jagger/Richards

    congrats, nathan

  72. Erik

    Why does this blog keep returning to the fold of cliches when it should avoid them like the plague?

    I think you should quit this like a bad habit. But who am I, the Pope in Rome?

    [That was as painful to write as it is to read. Sorry. Had to.]

    I take on one of my favorite “super-cliches” in my blog, “Rockstar”.

  73. Adaora A.

    Down here (and I believe in the UK as well) ‘shattered’ can mean extremely exhausted and tired. And that’s usually how I use it. I couldn’t see myself using iti n a query for more then one reason now I guesss. 🙂

  74. m clement hall

    For over-used and inappropriate words, how about “sexy”?


    “Shattered” is a very specific expression, it means “broken beyond repair”, like trying to piece together something made of glass, it is not redeemable.

  76. R.J. Keller

    Apropos of nothing in this particular post, I just wanted to say that I’m looking forward to reading “Churchill By Himself.”

  77. ♥  Viv.

    this is very helpful!!! gr8 blog!!!

  78. Anonymous

    Reminds me of the Billy Collins poem, Tension.

  79. Anonymous

    I can’t understand your blog. Maybe you should use smaller words. hehe.

  80. Anonymous

    Bah humbug, let’s forget this shatter business and get down to the Milli Vanilli expose – I am SO intrigued!


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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!

My blog has everything you need to know to write, edit, and publish a book. Can’t find what you need or want personalized help? Reach out.


I’m available for consultations, edits, query critiques, brainstorming, and more.



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