Monday, April 13, 2009

Be an Agent for a Day

There's a mind-blowing experiment going on this week called Be an Agent for a Day. Nathan Bransford, a literary agent in San Francisco, invited his blog readers to do what agents do -- review a boatload of query letters. In publishing lingo, a “query” is the proposal you send to an agent or editor to try to get them interested in your work. Agents get tons of these -- often hundreds a day. Nathan asked his readers to volunteer their own queries. Then he set his blog to post 50 queries at different times throughout the day to simulate an agent’s email inbox. The blog readers review the queries, and accept or reject them in the comments section. We're only allowed to accept 5 (request the manuscript); we must reject the other 45. Sprinkled throughout the 50 are three queries for books that actually went on to get published. Our job is to find those three. At the end, Nathan will see how good we were at picking out the winners.
The response to the event has been overwhelming. I think this shows how desperate new writers are for feedback. It has also shown -- not surprisingly -- that writers are especially critical of each other. Halfway through the event, Nathan had to jump in and tell the "agents" to tone down their rejections -- reminding us that there are real people behind these queries, and saying "if some of you were real agents you'd have a pitchfork wielding mob outside of your office by now."
Harsh critics aside, I was really hoping my query would get used. What a great opportunity to get feedback from over 200 people. But Nathan said he got hundreds and hundreds of volunteers, and could only use 50.
Check out the contest -- you can still participate. I did, and found it really hard -- and kind of addicting. Here, you can start with my query. Since it didn't get used, I'll post it here:

Dear Mr. Agent:

It was a pleasure meeting you at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Per your request, I am writing you about my novel, DOUBLE-BLIND, a thriller about an FDA inspector who travels to Mexico City to investigate a fraudulent drug trial. The highlighted disease is lupus, an autoimmune disorder that affects over one million people in the United States alone. Ninety percent of lupus patients are women, which presents a unique marketing opportunity for this book. As Ian McEwan said in this week’s New Yorker, “when women stop reading, the novel will be dead.”

I've worked in the biotech industry for over a decade, and a year ago I quit my day job to write full time. One look at a major newspaper will tell you that biotech, clinical trials, and the FDA are increasingly in the spotlight. Yet, these subjects are underrepresented in fiction. DOUBLE-BLIND introduces readers to this world, but in palatable doses: the novel is, at its heart, a page-turner, a love story, and a portrait of a man ascending from a pit of grief.
Ethan Cole left medical practice for a job with the FDA after his wife, Sarah, died of lupus. A stoic, 35-year-old physician, Ethan isn't well-equipped to deal with the loss of his wife. On the first anniversary of Sarah's death, the FDA sends Ethan to Mexico City to investigate a doctor who's testing an experimental lupus drug.

Walter Grenon is a 58-year-old biotech CEO whose obsessive-compulsive disorder has recently flared out of control. When he discovers that his company’s new lupus drug doesn't work, he hatches a plan to manipulate the drug's clinical trial to guarantee positive results. He employs Felix Torres, a charismatic rheumatologist in Mexico City, to carry out the plan.

While investigating Dr. Torres, Ethan has to review graphic descriptions of lupus patients, and persistent memories of his wife threaten to derail his investigation. Then he meets a beautiful nursing student named Carmen, who turns out to be the whistleblower who tipped off the FDA. He doesn't know if he can trust her, but as they work together, he feels a growing connection to her—a connection he's not ready to acknowledge.

As Ethan unravels the medical fraud, he discovers that Dr. Torres is substituting a malicious drug for placebo—and patients are dying. He soon realizes that the biomedical fraud extends beyond Mexico's borders, and his own wife's hasty death may have been due to more than just lupus.

Your list of clients is very impressive. It would be an honor to work with you on this project. My novel is 65,000 words and fully complete. May I send you a copy of the manuscript?

Brian Crawford


  1. Perhaps the editor thought it was too soon for Ethan to move on after his wife died. Deal breaker.

  2. I am also disappointed yours wasn't chosen! It's very well written.

    I tried the "Be An Agent for a Day" and ended up choosing #9, #10, #36, #46, and #48. For me, the hardest part was picking five I cared enough about, which surprised me. Very interesting and addicting, thank you for posting about this.

  3. I love that you are giving us a peek at your book now! I would like a manuscript please!

  4. Anonymous - are you saying that's a lot of words or a little? It's actually on the short side... I'm working on expanding the book to 75-80K.

  5. I was saying thats a lot of words. Well for me. Being your youngest brother and all. Anything over 50 words is a lot. Ex: the fresno Bee 50 words or less, mothers day, explaining why your mom is the best essay.... never did it, because it was too long.

  6. I agree with Daniel..I want to read your novel now! Suspense, budding tension and romance, and exposing an evil side of a powerful industry...what more could this reader want? :)