Old Ask Nathan Thread

Questions for the resident (former) agent
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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 2nd, 2010, 8:53 pm

CharleeVale wrote:Hi Nathan,

I was searching agentquery the other day, getting a list of potentials, and I came across something I wasn't sure about.

If an agent says that they represent YA, but they DO NOT represent fantasy, does it follow that they don't represent YA fantasy? I wouldn't want to put an agent off by sending them a YA fantasy query if that's what it means. Thanks!

CV
Yeah, that's probably what that means.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Cacy » August 2nd, 2010, 8:59 pm

Hi Nathan,

Okay, this kind of funny. Kind of. I had two lists of agents going since I had two manuscripts that I was considering submitting. Because one of the manuscripts is adult and the other YA, one list is of agents who represent adult work and the second is of those who represent young adult since some agents represent one and not the other. Somehow, I ended up submitting the adult novel to an agent who only represents kids and YA. I didn't realize this until after I sent a follow up email to this agent. (The agency website suggests sending a follow up email if a certain amount of time passes and the agent hasn't responded). Heh. The agent still didn't respond. I imagine this agent grumbling about stupid writers that can't be bothered with reading the submission page while sending my emails to the land of deleted queries.

So here is my question. I may be sending my YA query out soon. I still really like this agent and I want to re-query. If I do, should I mention the mistake of sending a query for the wrong kind of project and apologize? I wouldn't think that he'd remember my name and/or previous query so I'm inclined to think that I shouldn't bring it up at all, but in the back of my mind I have this little voice of doom saying, "but what if he does remember?"

To bring it up, or to not bring it up. That is the question. If someone had mis-queried you and then had the audacity to send you a second email to follow up on this type of book you don't represent, would you want that mistake acknowledge?

And, if you don't mind, I have a second question. Where does race fit into a query letter? If anywhere at all. I'm a Black writer and most of my characters are Black, but the story isn't about "what it means to be Black in America" or anything like that. In fact I couldn't (or maybe I should say I didn't bother to) find a way to gracefully mention the race of the characters in my description of the story. And tacking "P.S. They are Black. And so am I" to the end of my letter doesn't quite feel right to me. As an agent, is that something you'd like to know off the bat. Does that have any bearing on your decision making? For better or worse. Considering that it's a story that isn't about race and culture issues nor is it specifically written for a Black audience (i.e. not about ganstas or church people), does it matter to most agents? I write sci-fi and fantasy and I'd like to think that my stories can appeal to a broad audience. It bothers me to think that because of my or my characters' skin color, there's a possibility that people who decide things within the industry will think that my books are only meant for one kind of people. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. For now, I'll settle for figuring out how to address this issue in the query letter.

I apologize if you've addressed either of these question before and I hope you can help me out. Either way, thanks for a wonderful and helpful blog.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by RoarShark » August 2nd, 2010, 9:03 pm

Nathan Bransford wrote:
RoarShark wrote:Nathan,

I saw earlier in this thread and in your blog that you said that it is not best for first time authors who have not gotten anything published yet to not write series. Well when I began writing my manuscript I set it up so that it would become a series, but I am now questioning whether or not I should change it into a single story. Would it be best as a first time unpublished author to change it so that it is a single book, or should I continue to pursue writing it so that it could become a series.

Thanks,
I actually didn't say that first time authors shouldn't write series, my feelings about series are just that:

1) If you're envisioning a series you should still pitch your debut novel as a standalone novel that could potentially be expanded into a series. Reasons here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2007/07 ... query.html

2) I advise people against writing sequels to unpublished, underpublished, or self-published books if they're seeking publication. Reasons here: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/03 ... quels.html
Thanks, and I think I may have misread posts from earlier.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 2nd, 2010, 9:04 pm

Cacy wrote:Hi Nathan,

Okay, this kind of funny. Kind of. I had two lists of agents going since I had two manuscripts that I was considering submitting. Because one of the manuscripts is adult and the other YA, one list is of agents who represent adult work and the second is of those who represent young adult since some agents represent one and not the other. Somehow, I ended up submitting the adult novel to an agent who only represents kids and YA. I didn't realize this until after I sent a follow up email to this agent. (The agency website suggests sending a follow up email if a certain amount of time passes and the agent hasn't responded). Heh. The agent still didn't respond. I imagine this agent grumbling about stupid writers that can't be bothered with reading the submission page while sending my emails to the land of deleted queries.

So here is my question. I may be sending my YA query out soon. I still really like this agent and I want to re-query. If I do, should I mention the mistake of sending a query for the wrong kind of project and apologize? I wouldn't think that he'd remember my name and/or previous query so I'm inclined to think that I shouldn't bring it up at all, but in the back of my mind I have this little voice of doom saying, "but what if he does remember?"

To bring it up, or to not bring it up. That is the question. If someone had mis-queried you and then had the audacity to send you a second email to follow up on this type of book you don't represent, would you want that mistake acknowledge?
I wouldn't mention it.
Cacy wrote:And, if you don't mind, I have a second question. Where does race fit into a query letter? If anywhere at all. I'm a Black writer and most of my characters are Black, but the story isn't about "what it means to be Black in America" or anything like that. In fact I couldn't (or maybe I should say I didn't bother to) find a way to gracefully mention the race of the characters in my description of the story. And tacking "P.S. They are Black. And so am I" to the end of my letter doesn't quite feel right to me. As an agent, is that something you'd like to know off the bat. Does that have any bearing on your decision making? For better or worse. Considering that it's a story that isn't about race and culture issues nor is it specifically written for a Black audience (i.e. not about ganstas or church people), does it matter to most agents? I write sci-fi and fantasy and I'd like to think that my stories can appeal to a broad audience. It bothers me to think that because of my or my characters' skin color, there's a possibility that people who decide things within the industry will think that my books are only meant for one kind of people. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. For now, I'll settle for figuring out how to address this issue in the query letter.

I apologize if you've addressed either of these question before and I hope you can help me out. Either way, thanks for a wonderful and helpful blog.
I think it's most important to be true to the story. If it doesn't feel natural to mention it in the context of describing the story then I wouldn't feel compelled to say something along the lines of, "Hey by the way they're black." If it is an important element of the narrative then it would probably come up naturally in the summary. So I'd just go with your instinct thinking only about the story rather than trying to guess at how the agent is going to feel about it.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Cacy » August 2nd, 2010, 9:10 pm

Wow! That was a fast response. Thanks!

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Leonidas » August 2nd, 2010, 10:24 pm

Nathan, how/when did you decide that you wanted to become an agent? The more I read about an agent's job, the more interested I am in it. Of course, I still want to become an amazing, bestselling author, but that will have to wait for a little while When I was younger, I always wanted to be an editor, but that was before I even knew about agents. Is there a specific degree or classes you'd suggest someone take if they were interested in the publishing business and particularly in becoming an agent, or is it just something where you sort of leap into it and learn on your own?

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To humor or not to humor

Post by writingmaniacally » August 5th, 2010, 8:51 am

Dear Nathan,
I am attempting to construct a query letter (to whom I won't say, but his name starts with B and rhymes with Cransford), and I have a question that I did not see addressed in the FAQ.

Is it acceptable to inject humor and/or personality in an agent query, or does it have to be strictly professional, straight-forward and by the book?

If it is not appropriate to include humor and/or personality in an agent query, how does one like myself make her query stand out from the hundreds -- nay, thousands -- of queries a popular agent like yourself receives each week?

Sincerely,
Writing Maniacally in Mansfield

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by CraftyCreations » August 5th, 2010, 2:13 pm

I've wondered the same thing. I SO want to query the great Mr Bransford and say, "your blog mentions that you're a sucker for memoirs and when in doubt to query you." But something tells me that he'd beat the 15 minute rejection letter! ;)

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by dahosek » August 5th, 2010, 6:01 pm

I would think that humor is appropriate if it reflects your writing voice. If you're querying, say, a memoir of harrowing survival of cancer and cannibalism, levity would work against you. On the other hand, I would guess that Gary Shteyngart's query letter for The Russian Debutante's Handbook was amusing, if only because mr Shteyngart is a rather funny person in real life.

How to stand out? Write well. Damned well.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by CraftyCreations » August 5th, 2010, 9:52 pm

I would think that humor is appropriate if it reflects your writing voice. If you're querying, say, a memoir of harrowing survival of cancer and cannibalism, levity would work against you.

I don't know if I can agree with you on this. I'm writing a memoir of survival, doesn't have much to do with about cancer or cannibalism, but I honestly believe that my humor helps me get through the day.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 6th, 2010, 7:18 pm

Leonidas wrote:Nathan, how/when did you decide that you wanted to become an agent? The more I read about an agent's job, the more interested I am in it. Of course, I still want to become an amazing, bestselling author, but that will have to wait for a little while When I was younger, I always wanted to be an editor, but that was before I even knew about agents. Is there a specific degree or classes you'd suggest someone take if they were interested in the publishing business and particularly in becoming an agent, or is it just something where you sort of leap into it and learn on your own?
When I took creative writing classes in college I actually enjoyed the editing more than the writing and thought I would pursue book publishing when I graduated from college. I was fortunate enough to see an opening in San Francisco after I graduated and jumped at it. I've been with Curtis Brown ever since.

If you're interested in pursuing a career in publishing, make sure you take English classes and are generally well-read, not just in the classics but also up on some of the recent things that have been published.

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Re: To humor or not to humor

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 6th, 2010, 7:20 pm

writingmaniacally wrote:Dear Nathan,
I am attempting to construct a query letter (to whom I won't say, but his name starts with B and rhymes with Cransford), and I have a question that I did not see addressed in the FAQ.

Is it acceptable to inject humor and/or personality in an agent query, or does it have to be strictly professional, straight-forward and by the book?

If it is not appropriate to include humor and/or personality in an agent query, how does one like myself make her query stand out from the hundreds -- nay, thousands -- of queries a popular agent like yourself receives each week?

Sincerely,
Writing Maniacally in Mansfield
Yes, absolutely it's good to inject humor. The only exception would be if start off really funny but your novel is actually downbeat and intense, then it can be an abrupt transition. But feel free to be yourself in a query.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 6th, 2010, 7:22 pm

dahosek wrote:I would think that humor is appropriate if it reflects your writing voice. If you're querying, say, a memoir of harrowing survival of cancer and cannibalism, levity would work against you. On the other hand, I would guess that Gary Shteyngart's query letter for The Russian Debutante's Handbook was amusing, if only because mr Shteyngart is a rather funny person in real life.

How to stand out? Write well. Damned well.
This is true too - it's helpful if the humor/personality also reflects your voice. It's not an overly strict rule and it's fine if it reflects your personality more than your book, but it's good to keep in mind.

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Matthew MacNish » August 6th, 2010, 9:19 pm

Nathan I know Urban Fantasy has become a pretty major, if still niche, genre and I have a question that relates to it. My novel is YA and many say that's enough when describing the genre in a query, and I won't argue, but it actually mostly takes place in the remote wilderness with some magical plot elements so I had considered calling it YA Rural Fantasy, as a joke, but on the advice of several published author friends have realized my foolishness.

Of course when this thought first struck me I thought I was very clever, but my friends reminded me that many agents are very serious, and of course this is a business arrangement, querying, so if one didn't get the joke or didn't care for it there would always be the possibility that I would like like an idiot. The general consensus is to be as hilarious as you want with the voice and meat of the query but don't joke around with serious housekeeping things like genre and word count (or publishing credits).

So my mind has been made up not to go for desperate chuckles in this way but since you've been answering humor related questions lately in this thread I'm curious - if I had queried you using Rural Fantasy as a genre would you have got the joke and if so would you have found it funny? I know you're pretty damn hilarious yourself and I've seen how much you appreciate the ludicrous antics of my buddy Tahereh but there is a line of professionalism in there somewhere, right?

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Re: Ask Nathan

Post by Nathan Bransford » August 6th, 2010, 9:29 pm

Matthew Rush wrote:Nathan I know Urban Fantasy has become a pretty major, if still niche, genre and I have a question that relates to it. My novel is YA and many say that's enough when describing the genre in a query, and I won't argue, but it actually mostly takes place in the remote wilderness with some magical plot elements so I had considered calling it YA Rural Fantasy, as a joke, but on the advice of several published author friends have realized my foolishness.

Of course when this thought first struck me I thought I was very clever, but my friends reminded me that many agents are very serious, and of course this is a business arrangement, querying, so if one didn't get the joke or didn't care for it there would always be the possibility that I would like like an idiot. The general consensus is to be as hilarious as you want with the voice and meat of the query but don't joke around with serious housekeeping things like genre and word count (or publishing credits).

So my mind has been made up not to go for desperate chuckles in this way but since you've been answering humor related questions lately in this thread I'm curious - if I had queried you using Rural Fantasy as a genre would you have got the joke and if so would you have found it funny? I know you're pretty damn hilarious yourself and I've seen how much you appreciate the ludicrous antics of my buddy Tahereh but there is a line of professionalism in there somewhere, right?
My general feeling is that writers shouldn't overthink genre distinctions in the query and should feel free to be themselves, and if the "rural fantasy" label fits, I say go with it! If someone's going to get mad at you for calling it that they're probably not someone you'd want to work with anyway.

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