Successful Queries: Agent Julia Kenny and “Sure Signs of Crazy”

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 64th installment in this series is with agent Julia Kenny (Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary) for Karen Harrington’s debut middle-grade novel, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY (August 2013, Little Brown Books for Young Readers) which received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal. Learn more at karenharringtonbooks.com or through Karen’s Twitter.

GIVEAWAY: Karen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Rosi won.)

 

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Dear Ms. Thoma:

I’m seeking representation for SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, the follow-up to my first published novel Janeology, which received excellent reviews from such publications as Booklist who called it, “fascinating.” I think this story might appeal to you because it explores themes about the lifelong repercussions of parents’ actions like Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – only this story asks what would happen if you lost your mother and had to grow up without her?

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY opens on the day Sarah Nelson receives a marriage proposal. At first, she sparks with happiness. But when the proposal not only begs her to be his wife, but also “the mother of his children,” Sarah’s spirit quickly plummets. As the child of an institutionalized, mentally ill mother, Sarah’s always had an uneasy relationship with the concept of motherhood.

While weighing her answer to his proposal, she recalls the house where she turned 12, the house where she found herself waiting: waiting to be kissed by a boy, waiting to look grown up, waiting for her father to stop drinking away his sorrow, and perhaps most fearfully, waiting to go crazy like her mother.

Complete at 69,000 words, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY tells the story of one pivotal summer during Sarah’s life as she struggles to come-of-age in the shadow of her mother’s illness and her father’s secrecy. This novel will appeal to readers of strong upmarket women’s fiction like Elizabeth Flock’s Me and Emma, Kaye Gibbons’ Ellen Foster and Jayne Pupek’s Tomato Girl.

Per your submission preferences, please find the first pages attached.

Sincerely,

Karen Harrington

(Is it best to query all your target agents at once? — or just a few to start?)

 

COMMENTARY FROM AGENT JULIA KENNY OF DUNOW, CARLSON AND LERNER LITERARY

Karen came to me through Geri Thoma, with whom I worked for many years at Markson Thoma. Karen originally queried Geri with her project, which was pitched as an adult novel. Geri took a look and thought that there was something really special there, but she felt quite sure the voice was for a younger audience, so she passed it along to me knowing I’m very keen on middle grade and young adult.

Karen’s query letter was concise, included some strong comp titles, and her “elevator pitch” was spot on: Complete at 69,000 words, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY tells the story of one pivotal summer during Sarah’s life as she struggles to come-of-age in the shadow of her mother’s illness and her father’s secrecy. I knew I had to take a look.

Incidentally, though the query pitched the novel as women’s fiction, it didn’t have that “looking back on my childhood” point of view and mature voice throughout that you find in adult fiction. Strong middle-grade voices, by comparison, are generally told in the present, as was the bulk of Karen’s book. Sarah is so delightful and insightful in the way that children often are, and my gut told me that – while adults will also fall in love with her – we had to ensure that a younger audience got to meet her, too.

GIVEAWAY: Karen is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: Rosi won.)

 

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24 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Julia Kenny and “Sure Signs of Crazy”

  1. DianaShallard

    To be honest, I wondered if this book was actually too mature of a topic for MG readers, but I guess the stories kids read today have gotten more serious haven’t they? This is good news for me as I sometimes worry that my WIP is too deep for YA. Perhaps it’s not. Also, I’m a big fan of YA fiction myself and feel MG books like this one would be a good option for Mother-Daughter Book Clubs. Thanks for sharing this query!

  2. Tracy

    Thanks for letting us read the query letter, and for giving me an idea on a good elevator pitch. Being able to describe my story in one to two sentences is very difficult for me. It was also interesting to read that, though the story was aimed at women’s fiction, it was still passed on to someone else that saw who the story was really for, middle-graders. I love the sentence at the end: “Sarah is so delightful and insightful in the way that children often are, and my gut told me that – while adults will also fall in love with her – we had to ensure that a younger audience got to meet her, too.”
    “We had to ensure that a younger audience got to meet her, too.”
    Thanks for looking our for our young readers!

    – Tracy

  3. evelyne@holingue.com

    Thank you for sharing with us your query letter. It is always a challenging task for writers to pitch our own work.
    As a writer who writes for middle grade readers and enjoy this age category a lot, I will check your book out.
    Cheers to your success and thank you again for sharing an important part of your journey with us.

  4. Jeri Baird

    I always love to read successful queries. I’m in the middle of querying and have trouble comparing my book to others already published. You’ve done a beautiful job. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Tree

    Superb query letter Karen. Excellent layout and use of comparison title to start things off and get the agent’s attention. You include just enough information to put across the story while keeping the paragraphs short and intriguing. Thanks for sharing your success and helping others reach for dreams you have achieved.

  6. Swallowtail

    Thank you for posting a viable example of a query letter. This will definitely help me craft my own. I would love to hear your take on a query letter for the first time writer; one who hasn’t been previously published in a professional sense yet.

  7. Dezzy89

    That would be a wonderful help to changing my queries to fit the preferences. It’ll be so much fun to read through the lists of successful authors who managed to find their agents. Perhaps it’ll help me find my soul agent someday ^_^.

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