Sep 1, 2009

DOESN’T MATTER ANYWAY – second version

Click here to read the original query.

Dear Agent:

I am seeking representation for DOESN’T MATTER ANYWAY, a 93,000-word work of adult literary fiction. I am writing to you because [. . . researched/personalized.]

Like This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen, my book explores the thin margin of error for a child growing up too fast in a dangerous home. Wishing for a normal childhood exploring the quiet streets of his small Midwestern town, Alan is caught between trying to keep up with his outgoing best friend and keeping an awful family secret – the vicious beatings his dad inflicts on his mom at night. We follow Alan over two treacherous years of adolescence as he asserts his independence from the deepening chaos around him, unaware of how he is nudging his parents out of their pattern of violence and reconciliation and into volatile new territory. Eventually, his defiance will force them to confront how far Alan will go to escape his mom’s shelter, how far she will go to protect Alan from himself, and how far his dad will go to keep control of them both.

My journalism on the subject of children witnessing violence has won magazine and advocacy awards and has been anthologized in college writing texts. I can be reached at [ . . .] Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely,

Robert McGuire

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.