June 20, 2010

WRITING ADVICE: Nathan Bransford 4 – Formula Query

Nathan Bransford is a West Coast agent with the New York literary agency, Curtis Brown, Ltd. For the past nine years, he has been writing a popular blog reflecting on and illuminating the publishing world. Humorous, serious and ultimately enlightening, I’ll be looking at how THE ESSENTIALS (PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU QUERY) have had an impact on my writing. I am using them with his permission and if you’d like to read his blog (which I highly recommend) go to http://blog.nathanbransford.com/.

How important is the query letter to a writer’s career or even the hobbyists happiness?

Sheesh! How important is breathing to life?

Even more, how can you write a good query letter…oops…GOOD query letters don’t even get responses. Queries are your first presentation to a possible future. They’re the difference between acceptance and the cold shoulder. The question should be, “How do I write KILLER query letters?”

Let’s look at my life in regard to this question.

Most people reading this have a job of some sort (unless you’re younger than 15), but imagine if you’d shown up at your very first interview wearing a plastic bag with rotting garbage glued to it.

The manager of that burger joint/restaurant/grocery store/car wash/lumber yard/whatever would never have hired you. Then where would you be today? I know exactly where I’d be…

So: query letter. I went through my computer files, and since I started submitting electronically more often than by snailmail (December 2007), I’ve sent out some 120 queries that generated SOME sort of response and didn’t just disappear into the ether. Of those 120, thirty-one generated communication (25.8%) that resulted in the publication (or in one case, the acceptance and “kill fee”) of four manuscripts (I wrote a total of 34 manuscripts during that period. In a separate series intended for a blog, the query resulted in five UNpaid requests for and publication of manuscripts (at http://thefridaychallenge@blogspot.com/). That means that I had 9/34 successfully published manuscripts or 26.5% of what I produced as well as two invitations to submit to anthologies run by a Famous Author (Julie Czerneda and Bruce Bethke). One invitation was ultimately turned down, the other is still pending.

Not ONE of those would have reached publication without a killer query letter.

I started reading Nathan Bransford’s column in December of 2007 and submitted my first query to him in February of 2008. It resulted in an immediate request for the first 30 pages of INVADER’S GUILT. He ultimately declined representing me, but (as my wife and daughter say http://onceinawhile-liz.blogspot.com/ ) “I’m just sayin’”. It was successful at doing what it was supposed to do – intriguing an agent enough to request a partial manuscript.

Nathan Bransford’s site helped me sharpen my query skills to a point where I pretty much submit with confidence now. I’m fairly sure that the “passes” I get on the manuscript I’m submitting have less to do with the form and functionality of my query letter than the subject, market viability, my writing skill or even the agent or editor’s taste.

So visit Nathan Bransford’s website. It’s a goldmine of information and it has allowed me to send successful queries.

image: http://www.transformationalnovels.com/4_query_letter__3_.jpg

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