Successful Queries: Agent Jenny Bent and “Oh. My. Gods.”

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 56th installment in this series is with agent Jenny Bent (Bent Literary) for Tera Lynn Child’s book, Oh. My. Gods., (Speak; 2009) which Publishers Weekly called “an effervescent, fast-paced read.” Learn more at Teralynnchilds.com.

(Query letter FAQs answered.)

 

Dear Ms. Bent,

What if the Greek gods were more than myth? Growing Up Godly is the story of a mortal girl, uprooted to a tiny Greek island half a world away, who is struggling to find her place at a school for the relatives of Greek gods.

Phoebe Castro wants to get through her senior year with a B-average and a few cross-country wins because that’s her ticket to a USC scholarship. But how can she compete academically and athletically with a school full of immortals? She’s training four hours a day, tackling cosmic amounts of homework, helping plan her mom’s Greek wedding, and dealing with vengeful cheerleaders and an evil stepsister. If she doesn’t place in the top three at the first cross-country meet she’s off the team. On the big day, she runs the race of her life. Phoebe feels invincible … supernaturally so. Certain she won under the influence of someone’s powers, she quits the team, ready to move back to L.A. Before she can leave, her coach tells her the powers that sped her on in the race were her own. Turns out she has a little godly blood herself. Her chances of getting that
scholarship have definitely improved.

Growing Up Godly combines the popularity of mythology with a new school tale reminiscent of Mean Girls. Growing Up Godly, my first young adult, is complete at just over 55,000 words and is my fourth completed manuscript. My first three manuscripts have finaled variously in the Stiletto, Merritt, Touch of Magic, Romancing the Novel, and Golden Heart contests. I’m a member of several RWA chapters, including Chick Lit Writers, and serve as Membership Chair on the board of West Houston RWA.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Tera Lynn Childs

(How long should you wait before following up with an agent?)

 

COMMENTARY FROM JENNY BENT

I sold this project to editor Sarah Shumway, who was then at Dutton. Sarah changed the name to Oh. My. Gods., which I think is a terrific title. Sarah has since moved to Harper, where she bought two more series from Tera: the Forgive My Fins mermaid series and a series about monster-hunting descendants of Medusa  (the first one, SWEET VENOM, is just out). So this letter really launched a very successful career. 

Here’s my run-down of why her letter was so successful.

First paragraph:  Many agents say they don’t like queries that start with a question, like this one. But I do.  The right question can suck you in when you are reading the letter, compelling you to read more. Then I like that she jumps right in with a pithy one-sentence description. Getting that one sentence right is hard work for writers, but it’s absolutely essential. I need to understand the concept of the book right away or I might not read on. I also really liked her title, and titles are so much more important than I think some writers realize. A great title is a terrific way to capture an agent’s attention right off the bat.

Second paragraph: Next, Tera moves into a more detailed description in her next paragraph. In YA fiction today, there are a lot of Greek gods novels out there. But when Tera was pitching, this was a very new, very fresh, high-concept idea. Tera really paved the way for all the Greek gods fiction that came next.

Third paragraph. Perfection. She jumps right into her tagline, and it’s a great pitch.  The X meets Y comparison is enormously helpful to agents when they are assessing your project and also helpful when they are pitching your book to editors.  Then she goes into her credentials, which are impressive, and also spur me on to want to see more.

I really think this letter is about as perfect as a query letter can get.  And it was the beginning of a long collaboration between Tera, Sarah and me, so what could be better than that?

 

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