This new 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.
Dear Ms. Nelson:
I am seeking representation for my completed 62,000-word young adult novel, Give Up the Ghost.
Sixteen-year-old Cass McKenna would take the company of the dead over the living any day. Unlike her high school classmates, the dead don’t lie or judge, and they’re way less scary than Danielle, the best-bud-turned-backstabber who kicked Cass to the bottom of the social ladder in seventh grade. Since then, Cass has styled herself as an avenger. Using the secrets her ghostly friends stumble across, she exposes her fellow students’ deceits and knocks the poseurs down a peg.
When Tim Reed, the student council V.P., asks Cass to chat with his recently-deceased mom, her instinct is to laugh in his face. But Tim’s part of Danielle’s crowd. He can give Cass dirt the dead don’t know. Intent on revenge, Cass offers to trade her spirit-detecting skills for his information. She isn’t counting on chasing a ghost who would rather hide than speak to her, facing the explosive intervention of an angry student, or discovering that Tim’s actually an okay guy. Then Tim sinks into a suicidal depression, and Cass has to choose: run back to the safety of the dead, or risk everything to stop Tim from becoming a ghost himself.
Told in Cass’ distinctive voice, at turns sarcastic and sensitive, Give Up the Ghost will appeal to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Annette Curtis Klause. My short fiction has appeared in Brutarian Quarterly and On Spec. I maintain the Toronto Speculative Fiction Writers Group, and I’ve worked with children and teens as a recreational programmer and behavioral therapist for several years. Thank you for your time.
Commentary from Kristin
Call me a rebel, but I love the idea of knocking down the poseurs a peg or two. Wasn’t that always the secret fantasy of any teen who was an outsider to the status quo? But the main thing that caught my attention quickly in the first pitch paragraph is the idea of using ghosts as a secret army of spies. If ghosts can be anywhere, of course they would see/hear all the dirt and be able to report it. That’s brilliant. Of course that’s how a person who can see ghosts would actually use them. Such a twist on the whole ghost story idea. This had my attention immediately. And Megan didn’t suger-coat Cass’s initial motivation. I like novels that are honest.
During the second pitch paragraph, I’m wondering: If Cass is lumping all other teens into one clique fitting mold as they do her—does that make her any better? I’m thinking this novel is about Cass realizing that. The final sentence in this paragraph is the clincher; it raises the novel’s main question. I’m so interested!
When she mentions other authors, it’s an excellent comparison. It shows that Megan understands her novel’s place in the market. Notice she doesn’t say her novel is as good as these huge successes—just that the voice will appeal to the fans who enjoy these two other authors.
For the bio, she didn’t have too much background in writing, so she keeps it short and sweet. Fiction can stand on its own; a bio is helpful, but a lack of background is not a deal breaker. However, Megan does have experience with teens and makes sure to include that. That never hurts. All in all, this is a really strong query. She uses backstory and character insight to build a great pitch around her hook.
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