Would You Be This Science Fiction Author's Agent?

Illustration for article titled Would You Be This Science Fiction Authors Agent?

If you think a lot of drek appears on science-fiction bookshelves every year, imagine the stuff that passes across a literary agent's desk. Just check out one writer's particularly horrendous query letter.


Literary agent Nathan Bransford posted a query letter for a novel called Descendants, as part of his "Be An Agent For A Day" contest. Don't worry, he didn't post some poor writer's query letter without permission - this is a query that one of his readers volunteered. It's either a real query letter, or a made-up one that the reader put a lot of time into making as good as possible. Either way, Bransford felt the letter was representative of the quality of a lot of the letters he receives.

In which case, Landru help us all.

The query for Descendants starts out with a gratuitous semicolon, before moving on to gratuitous exclamation points:

For over ten thousand years it ceased to exist; genetically engineered into extinction. Every record of its existence buried deep and forgotten within Corporate secure databases. Possession of this knowledge is illegal and the consequences extreme. Kutch only recently acquired this knowledge while intruding Corporate databases with the help of his internal AI, Li. The ancient data is so unbelievable that he filed it away as nonsense; at first. But now while on the job as Coroner, Free Radicals Division for Corporate, he is staring at what can only be described within the context of that illicit knowledge; murder! A monster has returned.


Oh no! Not murder!

My absolute favorite sentence:

Kutch is not a typical science fiction-fantasy monster slayer relying on training and experience to take on the unknown.

Does this mean that Kutch doesn't rely on training and experience, like your typical science fiction-fantasy monster slayer? What does he rely on, in that case?

It all sounds pretty hideous, but the tragedy of the thing is that it might not be such a terrible novel. I've certainly read novels with dumber plots. But as hard as it is to master the challenging form of the full-length science fiction novel, the hardest form of all seems to be the simple query letter. How can this poor bedraggled author create a query letter that makes his/her novel sound fresh and interesting? So far, 200 people have tried, and mostly failed, to help. (Actually, most of them were just like, "Reject!")


Monster picture from National Geographic. Be An Agent For A Day: Query #44 [Nathan Bransford]

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I think what we have all learned from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that you're more likely to succeed if your concept can be pitched in about one sentence.

Then if an agent asks for a chapter... that's the time you can either impress with your writing or not. I would suggest not trying to impress agents in the letter itself.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of brilliant works that can't be summed up quickly. And that's why a lot of those works took years for the writer to get published. Sideways. Harry Potter. Forrest Gump. Those didn't make good pitch letters, despite the fact that they turned out to be ground breaking.

Once you've already been published, then it's more likely you can pitch something more detailed. Or in the case of the Zombies guy, you can just keep writing the same thing.