Sep 1, 2009

Agent Interview- Nathan Bransford

Attention Slushpile Readers:

Nathan Bransford, an agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd., was able to spare a few minutes to respond to an interview request. Thanks Nathan!

In addition to his role as an agent, Nathan maintains a blog that is regularly updated with invaluable information on writing, querying, and the publishing industry. Oh, and the occasional TV show. You may have heard of it. You may even be one of the 1,983 people who follow it.

So without further ado...

When reading for pleasure, what is your favorite genre? If you don’t have a favorite, so to speak, then in which genre have you read the most books (for pleasure)?

I truly read all across the board, whether that’s literary fiction, YA, middle grade, women’s fiction, science fiction, fantasy… you name it. I don’t think I read more books in one category or another. Just about the only books I don’t read for pleasure are romance and horror.

Is the above genre also the one in which you have sold the most books?

Similarly to my genres of interest, my sales have been all over the map.

When considering a manuscript, how does your existing network of editors affect your decision to offer representation?

I don’t take something on specifically to mesh with the people I know best in the industry, but by the time I’m finished with a manuscript I want to take on I already have a mental list of the editors who I think might like it.

You accept 4-5 sample pages with a query. Do you ever skip the sample pages if the query is enough to indicate that the work is not for you?

Yes, definitely. I have to stop reading when I’ve made a decision, and that decision can come in the first line or it can come after reading the query and all five sample pages. Even if the query is sub-par I’ll usually skip down and scan the sample pages to see if they jump out at me, but I just don’t have time to pore over all five pages of every query I receive.

How often do sample pages sway your opinion to request a partial when the query is sub-par?

I’ve never had an instance when a query was truly subpar but the pages were amazing. Writers with a great manuscript are nearly always able to put together at least an average query. There have been times when a query was so-so and I was wavering on whether to request pages, and was swayed by the sample material and ended up requesting a partial. But even those instances are rare. For the most part there’s a correlation: a writer with a great manuscript usually writes a great query.

How often does a superb query have sample pages that inspire a rejection?

Very often. Now that I request five pages with the query I actually request far fewer partials than I did before I instituted the policy. Some writers are able to write really superb queries, whether because they’re just good at it or they had help, even if their actual manuscript isn’t actually that strong. Requesting five pages has helped me weed these projects out. This has been great for me from a time perspective as I’m better able to focus my time, and I also am much less likely to miss out on the authors who don’t have a super query but do have a great manuscript.

When shopping a manuscript, how is the query from an agent to an editor different from the writer's query to the agent?

Not that different, really. In fact, some agents will even incorporate the author’s own description of the project into the pitch letter. But the essentials are the same: it’s a short description that will hopefully inspire the editor to want to read it quickly.


Gina Logue said...

Thanks for this great interview. It’s a nice insight into his query/sample page review process.

I’m disappointed, however, that Nathan doesn’t read romance.  Not surprised though.
Shoot, I guess I can’t query Nathan with my Christian contemporary romance.

jbchicoine said...

It’s reassuring to know that acceptance/rejection does not hinge entirely on the query letter—at least as far as Nathan is concerned. I assume this principle holds true for other agents who allow sample pages along with the query. For those agents with a strict query-letter-only policy, we’d better make sure our presentation is tip-top, which makes this blog so helpful.

Rick, thanks, not only for the opportunity to fine tune our pitches, but for providing helpful and reassuring posts such as this.

T. Anne said...

How can he not have a favorite genre? I guess the rumors are true, he's a borg.

Rick Daley said...

I think there is a very important take-away from Nathan's responses. It's something that he and other agents state repeatedly:

It's the execution that counts.

It makes sense that a writer with an awesome manuscript can also craft an awesome query given the right time and motivation.

The issue that we need to be aware of is the query that has been revised into mint condition when the real area that needs the work is the manuscript. And I know this from personal experience...Owning up to a re-write is a tough decision.

Rick Daley said...

T. Anne- I think is favorite is "all"

Scott said...

Great Interview . . .and fantastic line "it's all about the execution". In fact, did a post about ideas executed brilliantly, which was inspired by something Rachelle Gardner had on her blog.

I think, in the end, execution is the key to success as a writer. If you can't execute your idea brilliantly . . .well, then there's a reason your query is not getting the desired response. Then again, Fate could just be having a good, hearty laugh at your expense.


Word Verification: frabl.

My ego is frabl after 2,567 agents turned down my query.

Sorry, but I've been getting some nifty word verifications today, and for some reason, I keep inserting them into sentences. Is there a full moon or something?

Bane of Anubis said...

Thanks, Rick! Great work, as always.

Rick Daley said...

Scott- I love the word verifications games. I don't get them on this blog, me being the moderator and all.

Bane- Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for the advice you've been providing, your feedback is always good. I notice you're back to the dog now. You rotate pictures almost as much as Mira.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This was useful and interesting. Thanks Rick and Nathan. It is reassuring to know that if you do your prep work you will get a read.

Lady Glamis said...

Great interview! Thanks to both you and Nathan. Good information for all of us.

Daniel Allen said...

Excellent interview! Hats off to both Rick and Nathan for continuing to provide those of us looking to get our foot in the industry door a place to turn for answers and help. Keep up the great work!

-Daniel Allen

Mira said...

Cool interview. Thanks to both Nathan for doing it, and Rick for hosting.

Rick, I realize that since you are now my arch-nemisis, I shouldn't try to be helpful, but I'll make an exception in this case. Have you thought of mentioning this interview on Nathan's blog? You would get a fair amount of traffic here to read his thoughts on the query.

Rick Daley said...


In UNBREAKABLE, Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson were friends but arch enemies.

In THE DARK KNIGHT the Joker told Batman, "Kill you? I don't want to ill you. You complete me."

Our relationship is something like that.

I may post a link to the interview in a comment tomorrow. I want to make sure it's relevant to the topic when I do.

Mira said...

Lol. Rick, I agree about the frenimies part. But I'm not going near the 'you complete me' comment.

Although I have to say, you're a very tricky arch-nemesis. I've been creeping up to every door in my house today, looking for the buzz saw trap, and so far nothing. You're playing with my mind, dude.

Nah, an interview with Nathan is always relevant on Nathan's blog. I'm sure he appreciates your respect, but I'd bet he wouldn't mind.

But...this is unsolicted advice, so, whatever feels right for you.

Donna Hole said...

This was awesome! Thanks to both of you.


D. G. Hudson said...

Rick, came over from NathanWorld to see the interview you did with Nathan. You did a great job of bringing out some of the background information regarding Mr. Bransford's methods of getting through his slushpile. He's so diverse, which is good for all the potential writers who follow his blog.

So, adding the link on Nathan's blog was a great idea from Mira. Will try to stop by more often.

Keep up the good work!

Rick Daley said...

DG- Thanks, I'm glad you clicked the link to check it out.

Christine said...

Thanks for the great interview!

wendy said...

Thanks, Rick and Nathan, I read with great interest.