This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letters that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting the actual query letter, we will also get to hear thoughts from the agent as to why the letter worked.
The 39th installment in this series is with agent Elana Roth (as of 2016, she is an agent with Laura Dail Literary) and her author, Eli Stutz, for his middle grade book, Pickle Impossible, which was released in May 2010 from Bloomsbury.
Dear Ms. Roth,
A boy with a hidden power and the girl who was sent to stop him have 24 hours to win a pickle contest.
12-year-old Pierre La Bouche is a cornichon. That’s French for “pickle,” but it also means “good-for-nothing.” A middle child who gets straight C’s, he’s never been No. 1 at anything. When the family farm goes broke, grandfather Henri gives Pierre a mission: to save the farm by winning an international pickle contest.
En route to the contest, Pierre meets Aurore, the charming but less-than-truthful granddaughter of a rival farmer. She’s been sent to ensnare Pierre, but after a wake up call from her conscience, she rescues him. Together, they navigate the ghostly Paris catacombs, figure out how to crash-land a plane, and duel with a black-hearted villain who will stop at nothing to capture their pickles. In their most desperate hour, it is Pierre’s incredible simplicity that saves the day. Always bickering but becoming friends, Pierre and Aurore discover that anything is possible, no matter how hard it may seem.
Pickle Impossible is complete at 32,500 words. I’m a technical writer by day, optimistic novelist by night. Recently, I’ve interviewed a host of pickle makers and French natives. My own pickles are fermenting in the kitchen. I grew up in Toronto and live with my wife and children in Israel.
Thank you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you.
Commentary from Elana
At the core of this letter are 3 main paragraphs. Two of them are about the book. The last and shortest is about the author. Sure, he tosses in a little tagline, which is totally unnecessary, but it worked here, so I’ll leave it alone. Let’s go through each paragraph:
1. The first paragraph introduces our main character and the set-up. He uses concrete things to describe Pierre. He throws in the French flair of the book right away. And he doesn’t beat around the bush to tell me what Pierre has to accomplish.
2. The second delves a little deeper into the plot. It gives me the complication that will drive the story forward—someone is out to stop Pierre. And then Eli accomplishes the most important trick here: He gives me some fun examples of what will happen in the book without summarizing the entire plot. That is key because I don’t want to read the whole book in the query letter. But he gives me flavor.
3. His bio paragraph is straight to the point, not overcrowded with his whole life history, and also ties light-heartedly right back to the subject of the book. I loved that he tried fermenting his own pickles. (He later told me they weren’t very good.)
Here’s the kicker. The total word count on this letter is 242 words. 242! Look how much he fits into 242 words. There’s plot, character, personality and quirk. From this tightly-written letter I know I’m going to get a fun, zany story. Those of you who wanted 250 words just to pitch your book, take heed! Shorter is better.
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