Successful Queries: Agent Katie Shea Boutillier and “THE ART OF FALLING”

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 69th installment in this series is with agent Katie Shea Boutillier (Donald Maass Literary) for Kathryn Craft’s novel, THE ART OF FALLING (2014, Sourcebooks Landmark). Kirkus said of the book, “Craft’s debut novel lovingly traces the aesthetics of movement and gently explores the shattering pain of despair. A sensitive study of a woman choreographing her own recovery.”

Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks Landmark: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy (Spring 2015). She works as a developmental editor at and serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. Find her on Twitter.

GIVEAWAY: Kathryn 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: L Chavez won.)



Dear Katie Shea:

She had the talent, she had the drive, and she had the opportunity. Only one thing stood between Penelope Sparrow and the dance career of her dreams: her imperfect body. When she wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital after what should have been a deadly fourteen-story fall, Penelope pushes through the pain to move again. That’s what dancers do. Harder to surmount is the dark possibility of what happened out on that ledge, hinted at by each muscle memory she triggers. She can no longer dance around her body issues: the same “sturdy thighs” and “mambo hips” that derailed her have now saved her life, and whether she can use them to create a more meaningful career becomes a fight to save her soul.

THE ART OF FALLING draws on aspects of my past: as both dancer and dance critic, as the wife of a suicide victim, and as a modern woman bombarded by advice about how to achieve the perfect body. Dance is a hot pop culture phenomenon in top-rated television (Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance), award-winning film (Black Swan), and bestselling nonfiction (Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans). Body image issues continue to make headlines and inform advertising choices (Dove’s “Campaign for Beauty”). The story will offer hope to readers with displaced careers who are now trying to reconnect with their passions. In style, it will resonate with the readers of Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, and Elizabeth Berg.

I’ve had short pieces published, both fiction and creative nonfiction, and I’m a contributing editor at The Blood-Red Pencil blog. The Sewanee Writers’ Conference accepted my work; I studied there with Pulitzer Prize nominee Diane Johnson and National Book Award winner Alice McDermott. I serve on the boards of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and speak often on a variety of writing topics.

I’m seeking an agent who shares my enthusiasm for upmarket fiction driven by women’s issues. Emily Rapoport, Associate Editor at Berkley Publishing Group, is currently reviewing the full manuscript, which is complete at 99,700 words and ready to send. Congratulations on your new position at the Maass agency. My newly revised manuscript benefited from my three-day interaction with Don and his wife Lisa at The Write Stuff conference last March. Thanks so much, in advance, for your consideration. The synopsis and first five pages follow my signature block.


Kathryn Craft
Katie’s breakdown:

Paragraph 1: This is an awesome first sentence. It connects me to the main character immediately. By the second sentence I’m hooked. A conflict has been presented. Then she gives me the setting and a tragic event that happened to the main character. Something quite unusual! Kathryn does such a lovely job incorporating Penny’s struggle for movement to her personal struggle to connect with her passion and to herself. She leaves this paragraph with me wondering what will happen to Penelope Sparrow?

Paragraph 2: Kathryn makes a personal connection to her novel with her background and her life experiences. I always love seeing this! Kathryn connects her novel with the universe by using her dance and body image hook. She then narrows her writing style as similar to best-selling authors.

Paragraph 3: Kathryn has a strong platform, has worked with highly respected published authors, and has a great following among other writers.

Paragraph 4: Mentioning that an editor is already looking at it is always a plus to agents. We love to know that others in our industry are interested in reading this novel. Then congratulations—how sweet! This is a smart move by Kathryn. It shows that she has researched me and knows my most recent career move. Kathryn makes another smart connection to my boss, Donald Maass, and shows that she used his teachings of how to write a novel to get where she is today.

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17 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Katie Shea Boutillier and “THE ART OF FALLING”

  1. kadycee

    All of the examples of successful query letters I’ve read so far on WD are from people who have connections of some kind — I have yet to see an example of someone with NO experience, no established relationships with other published authors or other agents, no Ivy League education, no prize-winning work, no published work elsewhere — basically, all the things that give someone special consideration. So the message I get from this series of letters is this: don’t bother if can’t put any of the above in your query letter. I know these letters are meant to help but they’re actually very discouraging.

  2. Rhonda Walker

    Thank you to Chuck Sambuchino for writing this series and to Kathryn Craft and Katie Shea Boutillier for sharing the query letter and the detailed breakdown. It all is very useful while I work to create a query letter as mind- and heart-catching as Kathryn’s.
    I like that Penelope has a mind that can see that ’the same “sturdy thighs” and “mambo hips” that derailed her have now saved her life.’
    Thank you, Kathryn, for writing a book that will offer hope and shifted perspectives to people—and to Katie for helping it get out in the world. I look forward to reading it!
    Rhonda 🙂

  3. Lua Wells

    I’ve just discovered this wonderful website, and the query letter series. So cool! I read a lot of book reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but it’s fun here to see the author describing her own work, as well as then seeing what the agent thinks of the letter. And The Art of Falling does sound intriguing. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. L Chavez

    Thanks for this series, Chuck Sambuchino! I’ve been writing drafts of a query. I just learned more with this one than with all my previous references.

    THE ART OF FALLING sounds great. I want to read the novel now. I’m sure it would teach me a thing or two about fiction too.

  5. cotidiano

    I’ve heard that comparing your work to that of others is a faux pas of sorts for queries, but I love the way that is included here. Simply from reading the query, I can tell that Craft’s writing style is one I would enjoy. Thank you for sharing.

  6. L Chavez

    I have been practicing query letters on another site. But one look at this one and I feel like I have a much better handle on it than ever. Thank you for sharing these letters, Mr. Sambuchino!

    As for the book…it sounds awesome. I want one!

  7. Pixieglass2

    I’m currently enrolled in a publishing class at SNHU as a component towards a Master’s in English and Creative Writing. As part of this course, we are researching query letters to effectively write one ourselves. It’s been a little more difficult for me because I am a poetry writer and I haven’t been able to find examples of query letters relating to poetry.

    However, what has immediately caught my attention combines much of what I have been studying this term. When I search for books to read, I find myself first drawn to a good title. As a first impression, THE ART OF FALLING intrigues me. As I read through the query letter, I find myself wanting to read this book on several levels: one, as someone who is not the least bit graceful (I often walk into walls), I find such beauty in movement when it is executed with precision; two, as a writer I am fascinated by the movement of words and the musicality involved when the rhythm of a poem creates a dance of its own; and three, as a woman who has never been skinny, I struggle with my own body image and I would like to see how someone else handles these pressures in an environment that is unknown to me.

    There’s a connection to be made in all things. In dance, it’s the flow between one movement to the next, knowing when to pause, when to speed up, and when to slow down. It’s knowing how to translate that movement into emotion and how to evoke that emotional response from the audience. It’s about reaching beyond. For me, writing is the same.

    I can see the effectiveness of this query letter because it has made me want to read this book.


  8. lucilleinthesky

    Can’t wait to read this. Favorite line: Harder to surmount is the dark possibility of what happened out on that ledge, hinted at by each muscle memory she triggers

  9. Mrs. Write

    In light of the recent passing of Robin Williams, this novel sounds like it’s an example of how depression is a very REAL sickness and the people suffering from it are in REAL pain.

    I was one of the people frozen in their seat when my news feed was flooded with his pictures. Not just from his death, but shocked that I had no idea he was depressed. Not that I knew Mr. Williams, but I don’t remember any coverage on his struggle. He wasn’t just a funny actor. He was family.

    His movies are apart of all of our childhoods, and it feels like we lost someone close to us. I don’t know what it would have took to help him overcome this, but maybe this book can start the healing process for it’s readers.

    Congrats on your success!

  10. Debbie

    A simple analogy to a very deep and sensitive conflict. I welcome the opportunity to have your book show guidance and strength in a world lacking self-confidence and growth of weakness. The written word can be such a savior. Thank you.

  11. Tammy Denton

    I love the way Katie breaks down Kathryn’s query letter. The comments regarding each paragraph are clear, concise, and instructive. I plan on using her comments as a guideline for my next query!

    As to the book, The Art of Falling, the storyline sounds fantastic. It’s definitely going on my “to be read” list. I can’t wait to read about how an unhealthy perception of body image could lead to something as devastating as a suicide attempt, and how a failed attempt left the protagonist in even worse shape, but somehow ended up with (I hope) a better perspective of herself as an entire person. A story like this could be instrumental in saving others who are dealing with depression and impossible body standards. After reading this, I would hope they could skip the suicide attempt and go straight to the messages of rebuilding hope and a life free from such despair.

    Pick me! Pick me! I’ve already reserved a spot on my library shelf and in my heart for this book!


  12. bannergrammy

    Who has not been touched by the crush of depression, mental illness or suicide? I have–more times than my share, and I know that you have too. Hailing from a family of artists and musicians, it is my experience that the grace of creativity does not come without its share of emotional turmoil, a fact that we have seen played out in history time and time again.

    The real question is–what do we do with the pain that follows?

    Sometimes life is about taking lemons and making Exotic Prawn Salad with Lemon Chive Dressing. Other times it’s about just being able to squeeze a bit of flavor from that little wedge that arrives with our restaurant water glass. The point being, that nothing need go to waste, not even the scraps of life.

    There will always be storms, in our lives, and in the lives of those we are assigned to love and resigned to live with. Holding on to the mast while the boat is being tossed mercilessly about–our single goal to not be thrown into the sea –may at times be the only option we are offered. But let us remember, the wind will stop. The water’s surface will return to glass. And as the sun warms us in our respite, we have an opportunity to reach out with a heart of experience and mercy to grant love and faith to those who still have their arms wrapped around the mast of the boat. And when the storm hits again, perhaps, in the midst of their respite, if we are blessed, they will be there for us. A smile, a prayer, a word of encouragement is all it takes sometimes to keep our nose above water.

    And, of course, prawn salad with lemon chive dressing.


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