Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Literary Agent Appreciation Story # 5

Nathan Bransford is known far and wide among writers that frequent the blogosphere and his efforts to help and educate writers is no secret, but J. J. DeBenedictis, author of the OxyJen blog offers up a unique perspective on Mr. Bransford's kindness.


I had a novel. It was polished and awesome, and I thought it good enough to publish. I started to query it.

I did this properly: I crafted a strong query letter. I always sent five sample pages. I personalized my letters to the agents, and I sent out small batches at a time.

After twenty-five rejections with only one small nibble, I was really wondering what was wrong. I didn't believe it was the book, and I didn't think it was my query letter.

Nathan Bransford, literary agent, had said on his blog that if he rejected you, and you emailed back to give him permission to critique your query on his blog, he might do so.

One of my rejections was from Mr. Bransford, so I gave it a shot. He emailed back to say he wanted to take me up on the offer. His blog post went up that same week.

Reading the critique was excruciating--not because Mr. Bransford was anything but kind, and not just because it was public--but because I got exactly what I asked for. He told me what was wrong.

Heaven help me, it was the book. Blaming my query letter would have been soooo much easier on my ego, but it was the sample pages that were turning agents off.

Mr. Bransford pointed out my opening was simply confusing. I had started in media res (because I'd heard that was a great way to get the reader right into the action), and Mr. Bransford's advice boiled down to: "Back up, and slooooow down."

My ego crawled under the bed and wailed for a few days, while the horrified and embarrassed remainder of my psyche politely thanked Mr. Bransford and his readers for their comments.

After I recovered, I re-outlined and re-wrote my first scene.

And sent out five more query letters.

And, from one of them, got a request for a full and eventually an agent.

Mr. Bransford is not that agent. He will not make any money from helping me. His critique was a pure donation of his time and expertise, but it got me over the last hurdle. If he hadn't helped me see into my own blind spot, it might have killed my chances of finding representation for that novel.

And he did it just to be nice!

Thank you, Nathan Bransford. I greatly appreciate you and your generosity.


Having had the extreme good fortune to have won Nathan's latest contest I just recently received a very detailed critique of my first three chapters. He took a lot of time to really explain his take and I can only hope his advice will open the kind of doors for that it did for J.J.


Gemma said...

In light of another one of Nathan's recent posts, I don't think it was "extreme good fortune" that won you the contest. I'd call it "talent as a writer". Great first paragraph-loved the David Copperfield part.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Loving these posts, Travis.

I have something for you on my blog. :)

Lynnette Labelle

Melanie Avila said...

Now I'm wondering if I should do the same with Nathan. He rejected my partial and I'd love to get his opinion.

Great for JJ! I hope the same works out for you Travis.

Cloudia said...

These stories are illuminating, Travis.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

lyzzydee said...

That must be so hard to do, I am glad that it ended up helping you Travis!

Kathryn Magendie said...

Nathan sounds like a really cool guy *smiling* - seems that way from his blog - no arrogance or flippant "writers are stupid" attitude *laughing* --

and again, CONGRATS on the first paragraph - you won because you nailed it :)

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, everyone! I really appreciate it, though providing feedback is the easy part - offering yourself up for critique, taking the advice, revising then going and finding an agent is where the real challenge is. So big congrats to J.J.!

jjdebenedictis said...

But big thanks to you, Mr. Bransford, all the same. :-)