Confession time: I got a book deal. For a novel. My own.
I never started this blog, nor did I become a literary agent, because I wanted to be a writer. When I started as an assistant at Curtis Brown in 2002 I had some vague notions that I might write a screenplay… or something… someday… maybe… but that was quickly consumed by the more-than-full-time job of being an assistant and trying to work my way up in the publishing world.
I started the blog because being a literary agent is not only my job, it’s a true passion, and I wanted to both help out the unpublished and try to differentiate myself from the scores of other agents out there. Not, let me say again, because I thought of myself as a writer or had any designs on being one.
Fast forward to October 2008. The publishing industry and broader economy was in total meltdown apocalyptic mode, the whole country was stressed out about the election, and I had this idea for a novel… what better time to write a novel, right???
So, over the next several months, over late nights and weekends, I wrote a middle grade science fiction novel called JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, about three kids who trade a corndog for a spaceship, blast off into space, accidentally break the universe, and have to find their way back home.
(And yes, San Francisco residents: Jacob’s namesake is the completely delicious Philz coffee brew).
Whew! Finished it!
Then I had to find an agent. And no, I couldn’t represent myself.
I sent out my queries, got my share of rejections, stressed plenty, but found my way to the awesome Catherine Drayton at Inkwell, who, to my extreme delight, agreed to take it on. (Why not Curtis Brown? I wouldn’t have wanted it to be awkward for my coworkers when I devolve into an unrepentant diva.)
Then came the submission process, where I… also got my share of rejections.
But then. Then! The clouds parted, the light shone through, and Dial Books for Young Readers at Penguin agreed to publish it. JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW will come out in 2011.
Now. Let me try to preempt a few questions that will be on the lips of many an anonymous commenter:
Did you have an advantage being a literary agent?
Yes. Are you kidding me? Yes.
I have been eating, breathing, sleeping, inhaling, and ingesting books basically nonstop, 24/7, for seven years. It’s my day and night job. I’ve seen tens of thousands of query letters, and I (hopefully) know what makes a good one. I’ve been working with some of the most talented writers in the world and have had to think extremely hard about writing and plot and all the other elements that go into a book.
But before I’m held up as an example of all that is wrong with publishing these days, please consider the following:
This wasn’t actually the first novel I have written or tried to have published. Like many writers out there, the first novel I wrote (deservedly) crashed and burned. Couldn’t find an agent and justifiably so. Because it wasn’t good enough. Like many people, I had to experience the pain of giving up on it, putting it in the drawer, and battling a serious case of the “Am I crazies” when I decided to start another one.
So… if all it took to find a publisher was being a literary agent and having a blog: you would have been hearing me announce a deal for that novel.
Let me also just point out that whatever advantage I have as a publishing employee is completely open to everyone: you just have to find a job in publishing, toil away for seven years in the industry, steadily gain everyone’s confidence, and then write in your spare time.
Trust me, there are easier ways of getting a leg up.
But it’s not really a coincidence or a sign of inside dealing that there are so many agents and editors who write: they’ve already devoted their lives to books because they love them dearly. Of course some of them then decide to write themselves.
Are you giving up agenting?
Let me elaborate: No. No no no no no no.
I’m first an agent. That’s my job. This novel is just a fun side project. My clients and prospective clients always come first. I made it a point of pride that my response times never, ever suffered as I was working on my own projects. Not for queries, not for partials, and especially not for my clients.
If anything, going through the publication process has made me a much more empathetic agent. I thought I would be totally cool throughout the process… I’ve seen this before! I know what it’s like! Yeah, not so much. I learned a huge amount and have (I hope) become a better agent for it.
Will this blog be changing into a vehicle for relentless, egotistical self-promotion over the next two years (god, I’m going to have to hear about Nathan’s freaking novel nonstop for TWO YEARS someone please just go ahead and kill me now)?
Anyway, hope this explains why I’ve been so sentimental on the blog lately. This has been quite a roller coaster of a process, and I’ve been feeling the ups and downs of the writing life very keenly over the last year.
Thanks so much for reading this blog and for all of your great comments. I really can’t even express just how much I’ve learned from all of you.
I'm looking forward to your book! It sounds like a fun premise. A big hearty CONGRATS to you!
KD Easley says
I can't wait to buy it, read it, and leave my review at Amazon.
Brian Crawford says
Congrats Nathan. You deserve to promote the book on your blog. You give so much to the writing community in return. Hey… it would've been funny if you'd included your query in the Be an Agent for a Day contest!
I haven't commented in a while, but thought I'd de-lurk to say congrats – it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
And, geez almighty, I feel like a woeful underachiever now. Please don't tell us you are also secretly running the city while the mayor is out of town.
Can't wait to read it!
Marla Taviano says
Hey, I'm the first commenter!
Congratulations! This is super cool.
Congrats Nathan! Your book sounds interesting, knowing your sense of humor, I bet it will be hysterical! I do agree with keeping your book to your self until you have a lead of some type. I am doing the same, only the strangers that I have come to be close with online in writing groups know the book. Well there are the countless agents that have sent back wonderful rejection letters to include you only a few minutes ago 🙁 But makes it easier to know that you know both sides of it.
But no matter I am truly happy for you and know you will do wonderfully!
Juliette Poulter says
So pleased for you Nathan, but … um … I'm a little embarrassed to ask this because nobody else has … but … well … here goes …. What's a corndog?
A corndog is a hot dog on a stick, dipped in a cornbased batter and fried in oil.
A favorite at American fairgrounds and cheap diners.
I love them with mustard!
Good for you! I hope we can look forward to hearing more about your personal struggles through the ups and downs of writing on your way to becoming a published author.
As an aspiring writer, I am just as interested in hearing about your failures and your rise above your failures (and fears) to finally succeed.
I look forward to hearing more about the first book and how you decided when was enough enough? And out of curiosity – what was it about? Was it a YA too?
Thanks for sharing your view into the world of publishing – and now, your personal experiences with writing and publishing your first novel.
NATHAN STOP CONGRATS STOP YOU'RE MORE AWESOME THAN I EVER THOUGHT STOP CAN'T WAIT TO READ ABOUT KAPOW STOP YAY STOP
Juliette Poulter says
Wow, there's some US culture for me! Thanks for the clarification. Never would have thought to do that with a hot dog. You guys might have discovered a whole new food group!! And look how valuable they are … this kid I know once traded one for an actual spaceship … his name is Jacob …
Ha ha! I freaking KNEW it!! Congrats, man!
Camels & Chocolate says
Perfect way to break the perfect news. If anyone deserved this, it was you.
Can't wait to read it! I'm all about teenybopper sci-fi after all!
Still I've got a feeling that when your book becomes a smash hit, you will give up agenting :((
Ms Snarky Pants says
I'm so happy for you. So amazing! All I can say after 370 previous comments. What an inspiration!
J.J. Bennett says
Kapow!!!! I didn't see that one coming. Nathan that's so exciting. It must have been strange sitting at the other end waiting. I can't wait to hear all about it over the weekend.
About 8 or 9 months ago I finished the first draft for my first Novel. I then decided I was too busy to polish it and have it critiqued. But then again I don’t answer 100’s of queries a week and write a successful blog. So I decided that if you’re not too busy, then maybe I can find the time. Tonight I creaked opened my manuscript for the first time in months. I quickly remembered why I like the story. Thanks!
Hey, congratulations! Glad to know you'll still be doing the day job; I'm still planning on querying you as soon as I finish these edits… *eyes stack of notes*
That's awesome Nathan. I hope to get an agent like you, who is trying, or has successfully become a published author. I believe that it will help you understand exactly what each and every aspiring author goes through. Enjoy your glam and double success as both an agent and a writer. One thing I was wondering about though, why couldn't you just represent yourself?
WEE HEE! How cool!
I'm still debating the concept of being an agent, though I'm a writer – I totally understand business and have a background in accounting…
CELEBRATE! CELEBRATE! Dance to the music!!
I really wish you were an agent who works with what I write…
Damn, who cares! Write for your readers! Write from you heart!
You have a ready made fan base! Well done you and you're little book too. Me not jealous, honestly! No seriously couldn't be more pleased for you. Will be pre ordering my copy as soon as Amazon stocks it.
Congratulations! Hope the book does brilliantly.
Congratulations, Nathan. How you found the time to write a novel, I can't imagine!
All the snarly anons – why do you resent another writer’s success? The fact that Nathan's an agent is neither here nor there. Maybe he had the advantage of a bit of inside knowledge, but he still had to write a good book that would grab a publisher’s interest. We all know how hard THAT is.
Congratulations! That's fantastic news. I'm sure your clients will be thrilled too, as now you can empathise with them about finding a publisher. Plus I'm sure this will make you even more sympathetic towards people querying as you know what it's like.
Congratulations, Nathan, that's wonderful news 🙂
That is great news! I'm currently doing the query slog myself so I know the madness and depravity of it all.
But I do have one very pertinent question:
Did you begin your query with a rhetorical question?
Nathan, that's brilliant! Congratulations. Your book sounds right up my ally.
I've been reading this blog for years, but this is officially my first comment. What made me break my silence? A little bit of excitement because – we share the same agent!!
I'm thrilled that I can say I have the same agent as Nathan Bransford 🙂 That's trippy.
Awww!!! My favourite of your blog posts yet. Many congratulations.
I can relate to you telling almost no-one and your MS being on lockdown. I do the same. It´s hard enough doing it all without having to explain yourself.
I wasn´t going to query you as I had compiled a list of agents who had personal experience of creativity on a professional level, as opposed to only the ´sausage-making´ end of things. There are way enough of them to make it a sizeable list. Well, you´re on it now.
Oh dear, someone also breaks the universe in my book! (But for adults.) Is this the new vampires or something?
Best of luck with the book!
Let me get this straight. You published a book and are NOT going to become an unrepentant diva? Then, good lord man, WHY DID YOU DO IT? I'm in this business solely because of the opportunities to become an egotistical bastard (the masculine form of "unrepentant diva") and I find it astonishing that someone would not take advantage of the opportunity.
Congratulations, Nathan. Primo work, dude.
I'm very happy for you, Nathan. Congratulations.
Congratulations 🙂 🙂 🙂
Diana McCaulay says
Congratulations Nathan! I'm a Jamaican writer, a new reader of this blog, came across it doing a web search for "how to write a good query letter," immediately queried you re my novel, got a fast rejection, signed up for the blog anyway, and now every couple of days or so, I see a message from a Literary Agent in my In Box! Still causing a bit of a heart flutter, I can tell you. Your blog has a lot of great information for an aspiring writer and I thank you for that.
In the unlikely event you're still reading – my question about the submission process is this: how can you tell what your book needs? By the time you've finished it, you know every word and every one of them seems wrong. When you send it out, whether to critical readers or to prospective agents, if you get any feedback at all, it is generally conflicting. How can you be a reader for your own book?
Well done, Nathan!
I have no idea why your success makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, but it does. Maybe it’s because you’re such a nice person. So nice, in fact, that I’ve often wondered if you come from a different universe than the one I inhabit. Perhaps your book is a memoir.
s.w. vaughn says
Aww! This is so sweet. Congratulations, Nathan!
I love your book title!
I'm sure it's been said already but Congratulations!!! That's really exciting! And you never said a word the whole time… I kind of feel like it proves that what you say is true. About the publishing process.
Rather encouraging come to think about it…
Congratulations! I can't wait to read it!
Congratulations ! Well done. And so humbly so.
So cool! COngratulations to you from up here in Washington state!
I'm curious to know, and maybe this has already been asked, but I don't have time to read 395 posts! Good Greif!
Did you write to the market? Did you see a need for MG boy books, as we are always hearing, and write to that need? Or did little Jacob Wonderbar haunt you in the late of night?
I cannot WAIT to read about Jacob, Nathan. I was sitting her laughing at the description and knowing that, with your extremely hilarious sense of humor, it'll be an amazing book.
Congrats (w/ not even a hint of a grudge) !
Rachel Starr Thomson says
Congratulations, Nathan! Ridiculously excited for you. We all knew you could write (we read your blog). Can't wait till the book comes out!
Anon 5:01 — I get what you are saying and it might be true — IF it were an agent other than Nathan.
I've been agented before. I couldn't even get that woman to read my next ms or answer my polite and patient emails, yet Nathan manages to maintain a fun blog AND even responds to comments from people that are NOT his clients.
That is not a person who is "using" his blog to further his writing career. It's not some evil plot to solicit ten extra people to buy his book when it comes out. If anything, it gives him a ton more street cred, because he knows what a damn struggle it is, just like the rest of us.
I've queried Nathan and got a partial request and was eventually rejected. Who gives a crap? Am I supposed to expect him to be my agent because I like his blog? No. Is he expecting blog readers to buy his book because they like his blog? No.
It's a MG novel. MG novels are, at their heart, humble creatures. Some of you are acting like he's only started a blog to secretly suck all our brain power and become the next Dan Brown or something.
I wasn't that thrown when learining he got a book deal, I was only thrown it wasn't for something adult and literary, since that's where I thought the strengths of his tastes lay.
Congratulations! I am happy for you.
WitLiz Today says
Well, I read all 395 going on to infinity posts in celebration of another writer joining the ranks of, well, writing, whether published or no. And, imho, all 395 plus comments are a testament to the generosity and spirit of writer's as a whole.
Writing is a passion I would wish on anybody who breathes. And every success should be celebrated with lots of fun coming out parties.
So, not only do I congratulate Mr. Bransford and wish him Captain Underpants success, but those who responded so generously are to be commended as well.
It's my sincere wish that all of you, likewise, find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of your hard work.
And in kermity kermit fashion, of course.
Joseph L. Selby says
So to summarize your post, "I'm publishing a novel. I'm sorry." Who the hell are you apologizing to? Congratulations, Nathan. I hope your book does splendidly. Anyone that can't be happy for this success isn't worth your time. Never apologize for something like this again or I'm coming to San Francisco and kicking you in the shin.