Agent Advice: Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

This installment features Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd Besides the usual agenting duties, Nathan is well known for his popular blog on agenting and publishing, widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) blogs by literary agents on the Internet. In addition, he is a new writer of middle grade works, with his first book due out in 2011. He is looking for: 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.
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Agent Interview by

contributor Ricki Schultz.

“Agent Advice”(this installment featuring agent Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown, Ltd.) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents and script agents who talk with Guide to Literary Agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else. This series has more than 170 interviews so far with reps from great literary agencies. This collection of interviews is a great place to start if you are just starting your research on literary agents.

This installment features Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd. 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. Besides the usual agenting duties, Nathan is well known for his popular blog on agenting and publishing, widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) blogs by literary agents on the Internet. In addition, he is a new writer of middle grade works, with his first book due out in 2011.
He is looking for
: 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. He does not represent poetry or screenplays. He welcomes submissions via e-mail. Please send a brief description of your project (no attachments, please) to nb@cbltd.com.

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GLA: How did you become an agent?

NB: I really love books and wanted to work with authors. When I graduated from college, I decided to go into publishing and found my way to Curtis Brown Ltd., where I started as an assistant. I've been with Curtis Brown ever since.

GLA: What's the most recent thing you've sold?

NB: The most recent deal I announced was a debut suspense novel, Rock Paper Tigerby Lisa Brackmann, which will be published by Soho Press in 2010. When the author queried me, it was one of the best I'd ever received, and the manuscript didn't disappoint.

GLA: What are you looking for right now and not getting? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?

NB: I'd like to see a bit more nonfiction, but I'm really just looking for new, talented writers of all types.

GLA: How long have you had your blog?

NB: I've been blogging in earnest since early 2007.

GLA: Has the volume of submissions you get increased significantly since you started the blog?

NB: Definitely. I now receive somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 queries a year, and I think the blog is the main reason behind the high volume. When the legendary anonymous agent blogger Miss Snark linked to me for the first time, I received several hundred queries almost instantaneously, and it's been a steady stream ever since. But I'm very thankful for the queries I receive, even if it's an ongoing challenge to keep up.

GLA: On your blog, you have an extensive list of tips, rules, and good/bad examples you refer to as "The Essentials," which you request writers read before querying. Where are new writers are going wrong in the queries you see?

NB: I always recommend that authors carefully target their agent search and personalize their queries, and I wish more authors took the time to do this. Personalization shows that an author has chosen to query an agent specifically and isn't simply blasting an e-mail out to every agent they can find on the Internet. It also means they've taken the time to research the business. All of these qualities bode well for the author's professionalism and the quality of the manuscript.

Queries also tend to be either way too long or way too short—it's surprising how few queries provide just enough information without being overly long. It shouldn't take much more than 250-350 words, but then, it shouldn't take only 50 either.

GLA: With regard to "The Essentials," do the queries you receive show evidence that the senders have done the homework?

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NB: I'd say about 25% of the queries I receive really take the advice to heart. No matter how much advice is out there, not everyone is going to follow it.

GLA: You represent young adult fiction but tend to stay away from middle grade projects. Has this changed since writing and selling (congrats on your book deal, by the way!) a middle grade sci-fi novel? As well, do you find you lean more toward sci-fi when it comes to juvenile literature?

NB: Thank you! As an agent, I'm actually drawn more to the types of books I read than what I write. I may write sci-fi, but I read all types of books and don't really prefer sci-fi over other genres. I'm drawn to the author's talent and the particular stories they tell more than the genre they're writing in.

When it comes to children's books, the projects I have taken on have been all over the map, from dark literary fiction to fun commercial genre fiction. I tend to lean more toward the young adult side of the children's book world as a reader and agent, but I'm open to the right middle grade project as well.

GLA: Two nonfiction categories you accept are "history" and "business." With so many books already written in these subjects, what must book proposals in these areas have in order to get you interested?

NB: For history and business, the author needs to have impeccable credentials, the writing talent to engage the reader, and must be addressing the topic in a unique fashion and/or charting new territory. It's a tricky and somewhat rare combination, which is why there's such a premium on the authors who possess all of these qualities.

GLA: In addition, you represent sports-related books. What topics are you tired of seeing in this area?

NB: I'm definitely open to sports nonfiction, but fiction in the sports world can be somewhat tricky. In real life, sports already provides such a compelling ongoing narrative, and sports novels that try only for verisimilitude can sometimes have a difficult time competing with what's actually happening in the real word. I mean, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson legally changed his name to Chad Ochocinco because his jersey number is "85." How can a novel compete with that?

In order for a sports novel to work it usually has to be what I call "sports plus." Literary sports novels have worked, historical sports novels have worked, children's sports novels have worked, suspense novels in the sports novels have worked, etc. But just a "sports novel" is difficult.

GLA: You are a self-proclaimed "e-book aficionado." Having embraced what many believe will take over the publishing world, do you have any advice on how writers can maximize their success in this changing industry? What are your thoughts on the future of publishing?

NB: Things are going to be changing very rapidly in the business in the coming few years as e-book adoption continues to rise. The business is going to have to adapt, and it may necessitate new business models.
But I don't think everything is going to change. People will still want to read books, there will still be a demand for great books, and authors will still be needed to write them. The delivery of those books to readers may change, but books aren't simply going to disappear.

The most important thing an author can do as the world of books changes is to keep doing what they've always been doing: write as well as they possibly can. After that, it's a matter of letting the chips fall as they may. Even if they're digital chips.

GLA: Best piece(s) of advice we haven't talked about yet?

NB: I like to encourage authors to engage in "productive procrastination." Everyone needs to take breaks while writing from time to time, but instead of fiddling with fonts and the cover page, instead: read industry blogs and newsletters and try and find out as much about the industry as possible. I'm always looking for authors who demonstrate a high level of professionalism and take the time to learn the ins and outs of the business. There's a whole lot of great information out there, and authors who take the time to learn about the business before querying agents and read industry blogs (like your GLA blog) will have a big leg up.

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This agent interview by Ricki Schultz,
freelance writer and coordinator of
Shenandoah Writers in VA. Visit her blog
or follow her on Twitter.

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