Literary Agent Nathan Bransford: Q&A

Nathan Bransford

Nathan Bransford is an agent in the San Francisco office of Curtis Brown Ltd., a New York-based agency that has been representing authors since 1914. He represents a wide range of genres and is particularly interested in literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, business, sports, politics and popular culture. Nathan was born and raised in Colusa, California, where he learned a thing or two about rice farming, and graduated from Stanford University with a degree in English.

1) Dave – Do most agents read query letters, or are most queries first read by an agent’s assitant, thus filtering outmany of the letters?

Nathan – This varies from agent to agent. Some agents have an assistant or intern do an initial screen, but some agents, even some very well-established agents, still read their own queries. Personally I read every query that comes to me, and I try to respond within a day or two.

2) Joann – Do you or your firm accept either mail or email letters of inquiry with sample pages?

Nathan – The standard submission procedure for Curtis Brown is to send a query letter in the mail with a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you would like to include some sample pages that is fine (but nothing excessive). However, I accept e-queries and actually prefer that people e-mail me rather than send their query in the mail. If you’d like to include sample pages please paste them in the body of the e-mail. Like most agents who accept e-queries, I don’t open unsolicited attachments. I’d say five pages is a good rule of thumb unless the agent specifically asks for more in their submission guidelines.

Joann – Do you recommend a different way to reach and obtain an agent?

Nathan – The query letter process is but one of many routes to representation. Another effective way is to reach out to your personal network and try to get a referral. I don’t recommend selecting agented authors at random and asking them for a referral, but connect with a writer’s group, reach out to authors online, truly invest in people and you might find that they return the favor. There are more possibilities for this than ever before – just by reading this blog you’re on the right track. It’s also possible to meet agents at conferences, which is a great opportunity to meet agents and speak with them personally.

3) Lynda – What’s your all-time favorite pitch?

Nathan – All of the queries from my clients that resulted in representation are equally vivid for me – I remember being excited even at the query stage, and my excitement grew as I read the partials and manuscripts. In each of these instances, their writing ability just shined through, and they had brilliant ideas to match.

4) Raymond – Do you have any in-person pitch horror stories you can share? So we can avoid the same mistakes.

Nathan – ’d hate to single someone out, but for some reason most of the strangest pitches I’ve received involved people wanting to recount their affairs with famous people. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d heard it all something new comes along.

5) Erin – Can you describe your dream client?

Nathan – My dream client is someone who is a wonderfully talented writer and a pleasure to work with, but is also just as committed to learning how the publishing industry operates and how they can promote their books. With the direction the publishing industry is moving and with all the competition from books and other media, it’s just not enough anymore to write a great book; an author also has to be committed to helping that book find new audiences. It helps if they are a joy to work with so that people at their publishing house will want to work hard on their behalf. Luckily all of my clients meet this description.

Erin – How far into a manuscript do you decide you want the author as your client?

Nathan – I usually have a feeling about a manuscript by the time I finish the partial, but I really never know for sure until I’m completely finished – the ending is extremely important.

4 replies
  1. worddesigner82
    worddesigner82 says:

    Here, here for Elena’s comments. We are all looking for our “dream” agents. Rejection can be so exhausting. 🙂 i’ve taken a break from submitting as i couldn’t stand another rejection slip after the holidays. i know, its May.
    Thanks for having agents on your blog, Lee. The interviews and contacts are great! See you in August at the WW Conference. Revving up the amphibious car with the top down!

  2. Elena
    Elena says:

    Thank you for your interesting and useful/encouraging comments. I especially appreciate that you read a potential manuscript completely.

    Based on various experiences I’ve had, I must say you sound like my idea of the “Dream” agent 🙂

  3. ramona
    ramona says:

    Hello, Nathan. Thank you for sharing such practical info.

    Yours sounds like a fascinating job–every submission something new and different, and there is always the possibility of discovering something wonderful. I hope you enjoy it!

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