Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Hammer Falls

Those of us who know Nathan Bransford (and who doesn't?) know he has amazing turnaround times among agents. So it was no surprise to me that I got my rejection this morning. I did expect it, as I said before, since he has never taken on fantasy and his stated preference is for literary work. I'm not feeling too disappointed actually; I am encouraged that my query was decent enough to get me a partial.

With any other agent I won't post details, but Nathan is different. He is all about teaching us struggling writers how to do better, so I don't believe he will mind me posting my query letter to him. If there is anything that does disappoint me, it is that I got no feedback on where specifically I had some weaknesses in the query or first thirty pages of my narrative. Yes, I know how busy he is, so I don't expect that kind of feedback. But, just a nudge here or there on something that stood out wrong would have been awesome and would give me the opportunity to fix something. As it stands, I have no idea what I need to fix. I don't expect Nathan will read this (though he did once comment on this blog!), but I still want to thank him for being terrific!

For what it's worth, here is what I sent him. Please do leave me feedback on how you think I might be able to make it better.

Query letter #1

Dear Nathan,
I’ve been an avid follower of your blog for well over a year; you might recall me (knight_tour) as being the person who would have won your last March Madness Challenge had Butler won instead of Duke. I am seeking representation for my epic fantasy novel, The Shard, which is complete at 130,000 words.

Three years ago the minor noble Midas lost a son in an ambush by a troll. Now with his marriage crumbling and the Known Lands threatened by an invasion from a mysterious race of dragon men (called wyrmen), Midas is torn between his duty to raise his two remaining sons to be proper leaders and the insistence of his wife that he keep the boys safe.

He takes his sons to war, but hopes to shield them from the worst dangers. His intentions go awry when a seer involves them in a plan to defeat the wyrmen by finding a shard of a shattered magical relic, lost centuries ago in the lair of Kathkalan, a dragon so vicious it has turned the entire eastern region of the realm into an abandoned wasteland.

After surviving the dragon, cannibals, ice-wraiths that can kill with a touch, and a chase through an underground labyrinth, Midas and his companions find the shard and join the armies of the realm to confront the superior forces of the wyrmen, only to discover that the magic of the shard doesn’t work as expected. Midas is faced with the most excruciating of decisions -- save his sons, or save the realm and risk losing everyone that he loves.

George R.R. Martin has shown with his A Song of Ice and Fire series how hungry audiences are for realistic epic fantasy. I believe that the forthcoming movies based on The Hobbit will form a renewed bubble of interest in this genre. Though my novel can stand alone, I have begun a prequel and also outlined two other novels within the series.

Below are my first five pages. Thank you very much for your consideration.

That and my first 5 pages (which anyone can read if they wish by clicking the Authonomy link to the right) garnered me a partial request of thirty pages. The rejection was kindly written with a touch of personalization. The one element of sadness is that the best agent out there is now beyond my reach, leaving me with the prospect of querying all of the remaining agents who don't live up to Nathan's web presence. I'm sure there are many wonderful agents out there; I just need to go digging for them now.


  1. Sorry to hear it, buddy. :( But wasn't it such a cool boost? I don't think there's anything wrong with your query. I really think Nathan just wasn't ready to take on something that he doesn't usually represent. Keep plodding along!

  2. Ted, your dream agent will be the one who signs you up. You just don't know his name yet.

    You write well. You know you do. As do many others. And don't forget - nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    Your novel will be on a shelf someday. Hopefully I don't have to pay too much through the nose to put it on my shelf :)

  3. I'm sorry Ted. But you know what they say, the agent who LOVES your work is the best agent you could ever get. And if Nathan doesn't LOVE it, well...

  4. I came over because of your comment left on Nathan's blog this morning about prologues--both loving them, and feeling compelled to rebel against the venom about them by always including them amused me greatly (and I felt the kindred draw)

    I think your query is pretty good--maybe a little long for that 'sweet spot' Nathan talks about, but I'm not sure what you'd cut, and if he asked for pages, you're doing pretty well!

    Just keep trying, my friend!

  5. Thanks all. Yeah, I love prologues. All the complainers seem to think all prologues are exposition, but the ones I generally see (other than Tolkien's) have not been.

    Tart, I don't know how to make it any shorter without it being as dry as a bone!

  6. Just wait until you query someone who IS looking for fantasy!

  7. If you're getting agents to request more work, it's most likely not your query that's the problem. Given Nathan never takes your genre, I wouldn't count too much against it. I'll be talking to you soon about your story. I really like your writing style.

  8. Thanks Ben. I'm probably overthinking it, but I wondered whether he might have taken it a little easy on me due to the back and forth he and I have had on the forums and with the near-miss I had on the Duke-Butler game. Probably he wouldn't do that, but I wondered...

  9. I too and a NB reject. It's true, he's out of reach now, but thank goodness there a ton of excellent other agents out there.
    I see why you got the partial--your query is gripping!

  10. Thanks Lydia. You should see the terrible early versions I came up with. I dare not even show people my synopsis. I'm trying to avoid those agents who require one!

  11. Ted, I think this is a really strong query, with lots of great tensions to drive the story - I love the balance between the world saving and the family saving. The only thing I might change would be the first line of the synopsis part. It seems a little flat and matter of fact. I'd put the focus of that information on Midas right away, opening with his grief over the loss of his son in an ambush. Then you can flow into the rest. Right now that first line is a fact, when it could really be a character in conflict. Other than that, though, it seems strong. Clear and compelling.

    Best of luck with it!

  12. Thanks Bryan, I just wasn't sure how to go about it without creating too long a sentence there.

  13. Would that first paragraph truly be better as -

    Three years after losing a son in an ambush by a troll, the minor noble Midas’s marriage is crumbling and the Known Lands are threatened by an invasion from a mysterious race of dragon men (called wyrmen). Midas is torn between his duty to raise his two remaining sons to be proper leaders and the insistence of his wife that he keep the boys safe.

  14. I think that's more fluid, though a little causation couldn't hurt either, as with:

    Three years after losing a son in an ambush, Midas finds his marriage crumbling beneath the weight of grief even as the Known Lands are threatened...

    I don't know, just something to pull it together and show the conflict (as I think it's a great conflict, the kind that shows a mature complexity in a fantasy novel, and should be highlighted).

  15. Thanks. I'm going to have to mull it over and see what I can come up with.

  16. I think your query is crazy good! I'm sorry Nathan didn't bite (his loss), but the fact that he asked for a partial in a genre he doesn't normally rep bodes very well for you, my friend.

    As you know, he rejected me on the basis of my query alone. Granted, I also write in a genre he isn't known to rep, but it still stung! He was my dream agent, too.

    Oh well. Keep at it and let us know when you get an agent. And once you do, you can shoot me some advice on how I can, too! ;)

    Nice job, Ted. Seriously.