More Story, Less You

by | Feb 19, 2009 | Query Letters | 83 comments

A quick bit of query advice for this Thursday. I know you’ll find all over the Internets that writing qualifications are important. They definitely are if you’re writing nonfiction. But for novels: not so much. Honestly.

Qualifications are icing. They can adjust the calculus in my brain that leads me to request a partial, but they’re far from the biggest factor that goes into my decision. I’ve seen novels from authors with impeccable credentials that I knew I couldn’t sell, and I have sold novels from authors with basically no qualifications.

Lately I’ve been getting lots of queries where the story is described in just a tiny first paragraph with only the barest of inadequate description, and the rest of the query describes the author’s qualifications and/or other extraneous things that don’t belong in the query. Please don’t do this! I like you a lot (really, I do), but for qualifications I only need a short paragraph with the highlights. Please please please focus on your story and what makes it stand out.

Particularly with the tough publishing climate and incredible deluge of queries, I just don’t have time these days to take chances on projects that don’t really grab me in the query. Thus, I’m passing on some of these types of queries, even if it gives me heartburn and indigestion and takes years of my life to do so. I really don’t want to miss anything, but time is tight. Think of my health, people!

Unless you’re a rock star or the pope, I’m not selling you, I’m selling your novel. The query should be focused accordingly.


  1. Martin Willoughby

    Does this mean that I don’t have to bathe as often?

  2. Justus M. Bowman

    I’m not sure whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate that this post doesn’t apply to me.

  3. 7-iron

    good advice. thanks.

  4. 150

    Dear Nathan,

    I'd like you to represent my memoir, HOLY ROCK & ROLLER: THE POPE ON TOUR.

    Rock on,
    The Pope

    (not the Pope)

  5. Margaret Yang

    I think a lot of people get confused because some agents talk a lot about “platform” and how you have to have a good one. What the writers don’t realize is that it only applies to non-fiction.

  6. Peter

    So, which scores more points: Pontiff or Rocker?

    That, of course, is a rhetorical question…

  7. Tiffany Schmidt

    Hooray! It's good to know that I can keep the focus of my query on my written work and not worry about having volumes of publications. Thanks for the helpful & sensible advice.

    We like you a lot too!

  8. Vegas Linda Lou

    Interesting. At writers’ conferences it’s drilled in our heads to build our author’s platform and highlight our efforts in our queries. Are you saying the platform is not quite as important as we’re led to believe?

  9. Ink


    I have a question, partly to do with the query deluge and partly to do with the process in general. Do think writers are rushing? Do you think too many writers are submitting before the project is ready?

    It just struck me that it was unlikely that a bunch of people who’ve lost there jobs in the last couple months simply sat down and cranked out 150K novels. But maybe it’s getting a lot of writers to rush out manuscripts early, before they’re properly ready. Or maybe they’ve simply gotten confidence through desperation, and pulled that manuscript out of the cupboard to finally send off into the wide blue yonder.

    The caveat is that I was wondering about this idea of rushing even before the deluge began. I hear a lot of comments from writers like “Oh, I sent it off to fifty agents and realized it was totally wrong and not ready yet, so I decided that I could revise it and it’s getting better now.” The implication is that they sent it off rather blindly…

    It makes me wonder if there are lots of talented writers simply shooting themselves in the feet. They have talent, a good story idea… but not a polished manuscript. And prematurely sending it to 50 agents… seems less than beneficial.

    What do you think? Is the fast-food mentality of our culture a danger for aspiring writers?

    My best, as always,
    Bryan Russell

  10. Nathan Bransford

    margaret and linda lou-

    Platform can be important for novelists, and an ability to attract readership can help sell a novel.

    But it should be very, very succinctly described and it shouldn’t come at the expense of adequately describing the novel. I can sell a good novel without a platform, but I can’t sell a platform without a good novel.

  11. wickerman

    But my mom loves it and I have been writing it for 30 years and I like cats and I have a degree from Hogwarts and I fish on the weekends and I’m a vegan and I read romance novels and, and, and, and…

  12. Nathan Bransford


    Yeah, I’d say probably about 15-20% of the queries I receive are from people who have taken the time to research the business and write a proper personalized query. The rest are from people who didn’t take the time to polish everything in a professional fashion.

    And if they don’t have time I don’t have time.

  13. Mark Terry

    Unless of course your query starts with:

    Hi, my last novel sold 1,350,000 copies in hardcover and 5,787,372 in mass market paperback and was translated into 46 languages. My agent recently keeled over at the Russian Tea Room while slurping some borscht and I’m looking for someone to represent me and have only heard good things about you.

  14. Mira

    I like this, this is very cool of you, Nathan. You clearly state what you look for – very helpful.

    You’re also really nice about it. Niceness is an underrated quality. It’s important. This is why I read your blog. You’re a gentleman.

    It’s also good to know that the focus is on the work, not the person.

    I agree. I do hiring in my job, and frankly, I find the cover letter next to useless. It’s the resume that gives me the meat and bones of what the person has to offer. I’ll skim the cover letter to make sure it doesn’t say something like: “I hate you and you’re stupid. Gimme job,” and jump right to the resume.

    That tells me what I need to know.

  15. Brian Spaeth

    What if “a friend” is 95% sure they’ve invented a helicopter that can travel through time?

    I have “a friend” who this describes, but I don’t think he even writes books. 🙁

  16. Ulysses

    “Unless you’re a rock star or the pope, I’m not selling you…”

    Sooo… you ARE selling rock stars and the pope? How much? I mean, I’ve got all the pontifs I need, but I’ve only got 3 of the 5 Spice Girls. I’m overstocked on Aerosmith right now so I’d be happy to deal a couple of Steven Tylers for an Emma Bunton…

  17. Christine

    As of now, I am still a reader than a writer. I’d say that good writing qualification is still essential, story is what grabs me to buy a book. Complicated profound writing style will actually turn me off. Hey, after all, I am just an average reader hoping to be amused and entertained.

  18. Anonymous

    Hi. When I called Curtis Brown to ask about queries, they told me to submit a query and a synopsis. So, is a synopsis a chapter-by-chapter outline? A short run thru the novel without many layers? A longer, deeper explanation? I have a 2, 4, 6, and 15 page syopsis–wondering which to send? Thanks!

  19. DebraLSchubert

    I think this is great news! (Finally, some great news – OMG!!) I have a bit of a platform, but nowhere near as much as I’d like. My book, however, rocks (literally – it’s about a rock and roll princess). I am one of the guilty parties that sent a few queries out before I should have. Bad idea jeans (old SNL skit). I am now nearly done polishing my query and ms and will be querying again soon with a much clearer conscience. And, Nathan – thanks for being such a good guy. I’m sure you can hear in some of the comments how much that is appreciated.

  20. Marilyn Peake

    Vegas Linda Lou,

    I was thinking the same thing. Both at writers’ conferences and in many online writers’ communities, writers are advised to build platforms. However, a couple of years ago, I started to notice that many writers landing contracts with literary agents and the big publishing houses had stellar writing but not so much of a platform; or, if they had a platform, it was a long list of publications and awards that they summarized in one brief paragraph. I realized that they probably spent most of their time writing, and that was key.

    I’ve also noticed, on literary agents’ blogs like this one and in online writers’ groups, query letters that actually lead to major contracts tend to describe the project in concise, well-written paragraphs before even mentioning credentials.

    I think that part of the reason the platform recommendation became so widespread in writers’ communities is because, just a few short years ago before the economy took its extreme nosedive, having a platform pretty much guaranteed that a writer’s new work would at least be accepted for publication by successful small publishing houses, that hundreds or thousands of copies of their books would be purchased, and that they could establish a name for themselves to some degree on the Internet – at least to the point where they could win awards in readers’ contests like the Preditors & Editors Readers’ Poll, find reviewers to review their books and book promotion sites to advertise them. It all provided a kind of psychological reinforcement suggesting that platforms work. Those days are over (at least for now). Many small publishing houses have closed, others are temporarily closed to submissions for months at a time, many review sites and book promotion businesses have shut down, and everyone’s scrambling to sell books. Platforms don't necessarily carry the same weight. They might still lead to publication, but they don't so easily lead to book sales in the current economic market. I'm wondering if more writers' communities will eventually address the reality of the current publishing world.

  21. Scott

    I agree, Christine. I’m listening to a Robert B. Parker book, Sea Change … short sentences, lots of description, clear attribution (he said, she said… YEAH!). Refreshing.

  22. Nathan Bransford

    Come on anon@11:55, take your time to do your research.

  23. Vegas Linda Lou

    Nathan, thanks for your response and Marilyn, thank you for your insights. Fortunately, building a platform comes naturally to me–I do stand-up comedy and am having a freakin’ blast building readership with my blog. I know this is essential for self-publishing, but if I decide to continue querying, I’ll be sure to focus more on the story.

    Maybe a topic for another time: Do writers’ conferences give people false hope? I’m inclined to say “yes.”

  24. ElanaJ

    Mr. Bransford, well said. 🙂

  25. Walter

    Out of curiosity, Nathan, was there ever a qualification that really did impress you even though the story didn’t? One that maybe made you look the story description over, before begrudgingly retiring it?

  26. Marilyn Peake

    Vegas Linda Lou,

    I love your humor. I can see how building a platform comes easily to you. Some of your posts crack me up.

    Building a platform seemed easy to me as well because I love putting together all kinds of writing and book promotion projects. Eventually, the types of projects I was working on interfered with writing my next novel, though, and I’m taking advantage of the sluggish economy to just write.

    You wrote: Maybe a topic for another time: Do writers’ conferences give people false hope? I’m inclined to say “yes.”
    I think the information in many writers’ conferences is behind the times, emphasizing things that worked a few years earlier but don’t actually work at the time of the conference. This includes hot genres that are starting to wane and most likely won’t be hot by the time the next batch of books in that genre are written.

  27. Heather

    Nathan — Are you interested in pub credits for someone who has so far only had poetry published (assuming the author is querying you with a novel)?

  28. Anonymous

    I’m not querying yet, but I’ve already decided that my PhD in English Literature isn’t going into the query letter as I’m not writing a book about murder in the English Department (though I have thought about it – writing that book, I mean – I only ponder murder during particularly dull faculty meetings). I think I’m afraid of being pigeonholed as ‘yet another EngLit person trying to write a novel’ when in fact I’m a writer masquerading as an EngLit person. 🙂

  29. Dara

    This is good to know for someone like me whose only “official” writing credentials were a few years on student newspaper 😛

    I used to think that you had to have outstanding credentials to even stand out (and it probably does help) but I feel comforted that it’s not absolutely necessary.

  30. Anonymous

    I completely agree with Mira when she says that you are a gentleman. You give the authors a quick glimpse of the industry, the reality of publishing, and fuel for our publishing dreams.

    With that being said, I have one request for your rejection letter. (I have not received one from you, so I am sorry if I am writing something that doesn’t pertain.) Please, please, PLEASE do not address the letter “Dear Author”. I would much rather live with the delusion that you had hundreds of other query letters to read and didn’t have time to write my name than the thought of you being impersonal and cold. It just doesn’t fit your M.O.

    Thanks again for all the advice.

  31. Scott

    I’m going to respond to Ink’s comment about the sudden deluge in queries, unemployment and all that jazz.

    I think that many people rush the query process and, only after multiple declines, step back and relook at their project.

    I started the query process last July – two years after writing the initial rough draft (in two weeks, mind you) of the project. I went through many, many, many revision phases before I even considered the query process. I also only sent one query out at a time and waited for a response (obviously a decline) before sending out the next query.

    I absolutely love the project.

    I recently entered a contest that required the 1st 250 words. I looked at my first 250 words and thought . . . hmmm, I can do much better than this. I did, posted those words in the contest and received very positive feedback from both the readers and the ‘Secret Agent’. Long story (or comment in this case)short, I have now decided to revamp my project somewhat based on my ‘new’ first 250 words.

    So, while I didn’t rush the project, I’m now taking a step back (especially in the ‘iffy’ publishing arena right now) to refine it just a bit more before I begin the query and wait process anew. Hopefully, the deluge of queries by unemployed people suddenly writing the next great novel will not desensitize agents so much that they cannot recognize genius when it comes across their desk. ; )

  32. T. Anne

    That’s nice to know since my writing career hinges on a wing and a prayer and hopefully some well placed syntax.

  33. Vancouver Dame

    Thanks, Nathan. You give us useful advice in a humorous manner. With all the detail you have on your site about queries, you deserve a medal. I'll definitely keep all your points in mind when I send my query to you. Much appreciated.
    And. . .
    Yesterday's post on how our family & friends view our writing life was very interesting – I love the Wednesday 'you tell me' blogs. (They provide a good sampling of writers angst and gives us a chance to vent – nicely of course)
    Your blog is always an interesting read.

  34. Mira

    Hey, since we’re talking about building a platform, does anyone know the answer to this? It’s a bit off topic, but I’ve been wondering….

    I’m thinking of starting a blog written by my main character. I think she’s pretty funny, and would create a fun blog.

    But I’m wondering about first publishing rights.

    What if I incorporated some of what she said on the blog in the book I’m writing about her?

    Have I given away first publishing rights to myself?

    Does anyone else know about this?

    If no one knows or feels like answering, that’s cool. I just thought I’d ask….

    Blogs and first publishing rights seem a bit tricky to me.

  35. Lupina

    Point well taken, Nathan, but if a querier has, say, ten books published, it is a no-no to mention that fact in the query without listing year and publisher, according to your past instructions. But if said querier does list them all it can get lengthy. Is it better to say I’ve had ten books published, including bla-bla and blee-blee and leave it at two examples? Won’t it seem like the querier is hiding something? (Or should it be queryer?)

  36. Chris Bates

    How’s the white noise, Nathan?

    And I bet you thought having a blog was a great idea back in 2006.

    How’s that haystack growing?

    Probably like unearthing a health spa in Guantanamo Bay, right?

  37. ~Jamie

    So, if it’s a novel about the pope or a rockstar… we maybe shouldn’t pretend we are then?


  38. Scotty

    I’m always a little stumped when an agent wants to know how my background will spark a reader’s interest, or add credibility to my novel. Especially considering that I was querying about a story that involved a suburban housewife dabbling in the occult and fighting off home invaders. Sorry, I got nothing.

    But instead, I just let “me” out in the letter, and instead of being so tight with the paragraphs, really sold my idea, which in turn, I think, gave my idea credibility. Sadly, I didn’t decide to do this until I’d already queried my list. Luckily, I tried it with one agency I accidentally stumbled upon and got a request for the entire MS. 🙂

    Which brings me to a question: does anyone know how long it normally takes a fairly busy agency to get back to you on a full MS? It’s been a week.

    Good stuff again, Nathan.

  39. Mira

    Um, I’d like to add something to my post above.

    I know I said it was okay if no one answered my question.

    But I didn’t really mean it.

    Please answer my question, pretty please with sugar on top.

  40. Ink


    I’m guessing it would probably depend on how much of an overlap you’re talking about. If you’ve basically serialized your story in your blog, well… probably not so good publishing-wise. A few bits here and there… probably not too big a deal, though you never know. But if it’s just a single line you like or something I doubt it matters that you’ve used it in both places. Sometimes catch phrases are memorable… Doh! See? (Stealing is fun, too)

    That’s my take, anyway.


  41. Anonymous

    Sorry, I can’t help you Mira, but I like your idea.

    Re: More Story, Less You. Once I met with this agent at a pitch session at a writer’s conference. My pitch took three minutes (request for a full; ultimately rejected). Anyway, since there was lots of time before her next pitch, I asked her for feedback on my query letter. She suggested taking out almost ALL of the personal data (not that I had many prior publications mind you!). What she did think I could keep was that I had worked as a children’s librarian. The book I had written was for kids. It seems like there are a lot of agents out there giving helpful advice on how to write queries, but it’s still difficult! I can’t even figure out how not to post as anon. since I don’t blog. More research.

  42. Anonymous

    Mira, I like you’re idea.

    I’m no expert in the field, but I would suggest you take the safe route and not include much of your novel in the character’s blog. If you came up with a prequel story to your novel and serialized that as the blog, you should be safe while also helping you to get to know the character a little more. An extended backstory can really help bring a character to life if you’re still writing the novel. It let’s you (and in this case the audience) get into their head.


  43. Aaron Stephens

    Sound advice as always.

    We only have, in most cases, one page to sell ourselves to agents. You have to make every word count.

    It is like a sculptor with a block of clay. Although you have all of this material to work from, you have to strip away the inessentials until you are left with the final outcome. If you put too much into your art piece, you might ruin that which could be great.

    I bet some writers would rather tackle a block of clay than a query letter. I don’t think they are all that bad once you get it down. 🙂

  44. Mira

    Ink, Anon 2:26 and Jon, thank you for answering my question. 🙂

    Ink, I think your idea of keeping it to small bits is a good one. And Jon, backstory is a great idea.

    Your answers tell me my first publishing concerns are valid, though.

    I’m putting the cart before the horse. I probably should actually write the book. Then I’ll know what to avoid.

    But – having a blog by a character after the book has been accepted for publication could be a great marketing tool.

    If anyone likes that idea and wants to use it, by the way, go for it.

    Thank you for answering my question!

  45. God

    So you’re saying I suck?

  46. Anonymous

    For those saying platform doesn’t matter for fiction writers: That’s not the trend. The market’s tight, and publishers want authors who can sell, period. Platform and who you are, while not as crucial as for non-fiction, can be important for novelists, too. An obvious example is a talk show host who writes a novel–built in audience. Also significant would be an M.D. who writes a medical thriller–s/he has a huge advantage over a high school graduate writer with a medical thriller, right? Authority, relevant credentials to the novel’s subject matter.

    So it’s a matter of packing yourself approporately for your product (and if you’re not thinking of your book as a product, start.) Think about how a talk show host would introduce you as a writer, and put those things in the query–they wouldn’t say, “Joe Shmo got great reviews from his critique group partners, and also got a glowing, personalized rejection from a litereary agent,” right? So why do people include those things? Because they’re not stepping back and viewing their position within the industry at large. If you’re nobody, then just describe the novel, period. Nothing wrong with that. But don’t try to build what’s basically nothing into something. Makes you look bad.

  47. Marilyn Peake

    Hi, Mira,

    Some blogs and websites interview book characters, with the author answering questions from their character’s point of view. One of my main characters has been interviewed on websites. It’s great fun, and makes wonderful book promotion. I honestly don’t know, though, if publishing houses would count that as publication if the interviews had happened before publication.

  48. Jo

    Valuable advice, as usual. Thanks!

  49. Anonymous

    We like you too Nathan! 😉

  50. dalecoz

    Queries scare the heck out of me. I think they scare most new writers. I suppose they serve a useful function by keeping less motivated and self-confident writers out of the pool agents and publishers have to deal with if nothing else. Interesting post.

  51. Rickiboi23

    I get what you’re saying, but I think a good example in the future might be helpful to a lot of people querying. And to you, too.

  52. Anonymous

    I’ve come across a couple of agents who don’t want the query letter. They say queries don’t really give them the true picture to make a decision. They just want the first 10 or 20 pages. I wish I could remember who they were but it was at least two agents.

    I’m sure a lot of agents would cringe at this but it does sort of make sense if you can see within the first few pages whether the writing is polished and it hooks you….

  53. Anonymous

    Oh, and to add to that. I know Firebrand just did that query holiday and I believe they said their requests rate was higher than with the typical query.

  54. lisanneharris

    I’m thinking of your health, Mr. Bransford. That’s why I didn’t query you!

  55. bleeb

    I wish I could query you, but it doesn’t appear that you take middle grade which is a bummer.

  56. Mira

    Marilyn, thanks. That does sound like great fun! I’m sorry to say I haven’t read your books, but I see you write a genre I love – and now I’m going to have to read them, so I can try to figure out which character you were.

    In terms of the blog, sounds like I’d better be safe, and wait – as much fun as it would be.

    Anon 5:01, I like that idea. Cut to the chase, see the writing. Just because someone can write a good book, doesn’t necessarily mean they can write a good query.

    Just like I could care less if someone can write a good cover letter. I’m not hiring them to write cover letters!

  57. Nathan Bransford

    Anyone who can write a good book can write a good query.

  58. Anonymous

    Mira – Or the opposite, they can write a killer query but their writing is a dissappointment when you get the partial/full.

  59. Blu

    Hey Nathan,


    I write memoir that reads like fiction. I’ve never queried any agents. I’ve always been concerned my writing doesn’t have the literary strength I desire for it.

    My writing will catch the fancy of readers of contemporary literature. There is sensationalism built in – I don’t talk about my tooth brushing habits, but the parts of my life that make me want to pretend it’s fiction, like how it feels to take offers to get paid extra money when doing massages…

    Anyway, the desire to be a bit more sure it has “literary,” Edwidge Danticat strength has compelled me to get my MFA (will be starting at Bennington if I secure funding) instead of query agents.

    Aaaaaallll that said, do you have the overwhelming desire to be so kind as to share some insight into querying as it relates to such writing as mine. At some point, I intend to take the step, and I will forever remember what you tell me here, on today. (I sound like a baptist preacher there, right? “On today…”)


    By the way, if anyone else has some insight, I’m glad to read it.

  60. Jen

    Thank you so much for the tips! I really can’t tell you how hard a time I’m having with query letters…nobody seems to have any clear guidelines…
    Anyway, awesome post. 🙂

  61. Heidi C. Vlach

    That’s comforting to hear! I don’t have any credentials more impressive than a good mark in high school English lit, and I was just thinking the other day that my query letter looks so much nicer without attempting to talk about myself.

  62. jimnduncan

    Have to agree with Nathan here. If you can write a good novel, you can write a good query. Not to say it’s easy of course, because it’s not, but the same sort of thought processes that go into writing the good novel certainly apply to the query, you just have way fewer words to do it in. You have a couple of paragraphs to bring the same sense of voice, character, and conflict that you put down in 100k words. Kristen Nelson put up a very good run of posts about the query letter a little while back. It’s good reading for getting the general sense of things.

    Of course this is all just the ‘general’ rule of things. Every agent will tell you that some crappy queries have sparked their interest purely off of one element, whether it be voice or premise or whatever. You can take a chance on doing something different or ‘out there’ as far as queries go, and it just might strike the right note with someone, but your odds are much better if you don’t. All that said though, and I still struggle mightily to come up with decent queries.

    J Duncan

  63. Kim Kasch

    Wonder if,

    I’m Nathania, from San Francisco, with a condo in New York that was built in 1914. I write literary fiction particularly mysteries and suspense but sometimes mix in some historical fiction that has sports and politics woven into the story along with current events. I have a strong narrative voice that would be perfect for nonfiction but prefer to write young adult. And just so you know, I also am not afraid of poetry and/or screenplays. Let me tell you about this project. I’m looking for representation for…

    Then would you be interested in ME or my project?…

    P.S. I love rockstar (the drink) and I know (who) the Pope is.

  64. Newbee

    Great information as always Nathan. It helps me stay focused through my crazy life of being “Superwoman”.

    I wrote down some notes today to keep these ideas strong in my head.



  65. Mira

    Well, I think that many people who write well can also write a good query, but I’m not convinced that all of them could.

    So, I respectfully disagree. Of course, I may be wrong.

    But it seems to me the writing skills are different.

    A query is business writing. It’s marketing.

    A novel is fiction writing. It’s story telling.

    Not everyone is going to be good at both skills.

    What would Hemingway’s query look like?
    Sylvia Plath’s?

    Anyway, I could be wrong, but those are my thoughts.

  66. April Hollands

    I’ve actually just been struggling with my paragraph about my qualifications in my query letter: it’s hard to fit them all in but I was worried I’d be selling my novel short if I didn’t back it up with my qualifications. Nathan, today’s blog entry has been really helpful. Thank you.

  67. Muppet

    I’m normally just a lurker on your blog but just thought I’d say… Really very helpful entry today.


  68. Newbee


    I agree with that statement. I know a few authors who have self-published because of that very reason.


  69. Newbee

    Nathan I do have a question…if you can’t answer it, I understand. In the query which would be best?…To give most of the story away or to keep you guessing about areas of the story? I understand you want a good idea of what the story it’s self is, but are you wanting to be surprised at all?


  70. Robert A Meacham

    I salute the clarity of your post. Since my platform is a mere twig, I find hope in your comments.

  71. Anonymous

    About the synopsis answer: research shows that every agent defines a synopsis differently. Some as ‘book jacket copy’ that skims the plot and is a page long. Some ask for 10-page detailed synopsis. Curtis Brown’s is vague: ‘send a synopsis’. Would really love your thoughts, or at least a link to a good resource for this question.

  72. Bryan

    You get a lot of responses. Will anyone actually read this? I was one of your “form letter” rejections but believe I fall in to this category.

    The problem is; every agent who blogs tells you a different way to write queries. Kind of like taking golf lessons from 4 different coaches, each will be different. I agree 100% with what you wrote above and am working on mine, but it isn’t as easy as some make it seem. Writing or putting a “great” story on paper is the task and joy of all writers. Writing a synopsis to attract others is much more difficult. Am I the only one who thinks this way?

  73. Nathan Bransford


    There is a link on the right side of the blog called “How to Write a Synopsis” that you might find of interest.

  74. Christine Lakatos

    OK Nathan–now I am really confused! I thought the concept and the author were of importance in the marketing of the book! Is is different with non-fiction books (self-help type)? And what does it mean to have a platform? HELP from a new author trying to get out of self-publishing!

  75. Marilyn Peake

    To Mira, February 19, 5:36 P.M.:

    Thanks so much, Mira.

  76. ryan field

    anon @7:43…Pub Rants did a post this week about writing a sypop that is excellent.

    I hate to write these things so much I have a file just for writing sypops so I can go back and brush up.

  77. Melanie Avila

    This post is wonderful news to me, as I don’t have writing credits.

    I have a non-writing platform issue: My current wip takes place in Mexico and I’ve been living in Mexico for the past two years. Is that something worthy of mentioning in my query? Right now I have a brief sentence explaining it but I’m worried some agents may see that as simply padding.


  78. Jael

    Included in the list of “don’t tell me about yourself” for query-writing: that you love writing; that you’ve been writing since you were a kid; that your friends (kids, parents, grandkids, pets) love your book; that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to be a published novelist; that you have six more novels in the drawer; that your goal is eventually to make a living from your writing full-time.

    None of this sets you apart. The goal of the query is to make the agent want to read the book.

  79. Julie Weathers

    “Hi. When I called Curtis Brown to ask about queries, they told me to submit a query and a synopsis.”

    I probably shouldn’t be posting because I am tired, but Janet Reid pointed out this thread so I had to read it tonight.

    This just drives me insane. There is so much good information readily available.

    Just reading an agent’s submission guidelines will tell you, “don’t call.” Further reading will tell you what they do want and, usually, in fairly plain language. There are numerous sites that further break down how to craft each part of the query. This one is one of them, if you just look at the archives.


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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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