Successful Queries: Agent Mary Kole and “Wildefire”

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 47th installment in this series is with agent Mary Kole (Andrea Brown Literary) and her author, Karsten Knight, for his forthcoming paranormal YA novel, Wildefire (June 2011).


Dear Ms. Kole:

Ashline Wilde never received an instruction manual on how to be a 16-year-old Polynesian volcano goddess. If she had, it might have contained helpful warnings such as:

  • Dreaming about your (thankfully) mortal boyfriend may cause your bed to spontaneously combust
  • Oven mitts should be worn at all times during heavy make-out sessions

Instead, Ash has to learn these life lessons the hard way as her dormant powers erupt at the most awkward times. In the wake of a hometown tragedy, Ash transfers to Blackwood Academy, a boarding school nestled in California’s redwoods, where a group of fellow gods-on-earth have mysteriously convened. As if sophomore year couldn’t get any worse, her storm goddess older sister, the wild and unpredictable Eve, resurfaces to haunt Ashline. With a war between the gods looming over Blackwood, Ash must master the fire smoldering within her before she clashes with her sister one final time, which leads us to life-lesson #3:

  • When warm and cold fronts collide, there’s guaranteed to be a storm.

Wildefire is an epic 90,000-word cocktail of young love, sibling rivalry, and warring gods, which will engage both loyal and casual YA readers, with crossover potential for twenty-something women. Ashline’s story bridges mythology from five continents and celebrates a broad multicultural and international appeal.

I graduated from College of the Holy Cross with a Bachelor’s degree in English & Creative Writing, studying under authors Bill Roorbach (The Smallest Color) and Danzy Senna (Caucasia). I’m currently pursuing my MFA in Writing for Children at Simmons College.

On a personal note, your KidLit Workshop Submission series has been an invaluable fountain of insight and wit for me these last few weeks. I can only hope that Wildefire ends up in the hands of an agent who dedicates that same critical and careful eye to her manuscripts.

Thank you for taking the time to consider Wildefire.


Karsten Knight

Commentary from Mary:

I loved this opening line because it delivered a straight shot of the premise, right off the bat. It tells me everything I need to know about the main hook, with a spin of good voice and attitude. I’m about sixteen in my head, in terms of sense of humor, so the two “helpful warnings” cracked me right up. They conjure great images! I had to keep reading. Plus, my agent brain was thinking that romance is, pardon the bad pun, very hot right now. So my interest was piqued on a personal as well as a business/marketing level.

Karsten uses the volcano imagery to reinforce his premise throughout the query letter. Very clever. It shows me that he is in control of his prose and knows what he’s doing. The large pitch paragraph ratchets up the tension and the stakes of the story. The story becomes personal. I know that Ashline will now have an even bigger conflict with the only thing that can be more intense and emotional than hometown tragedies, new friends, and demi-gods: family.

Not only does this query have voice, but it’s also full of hooks that sound almost like movie tag lines. Karsten has clearly thought of how to present his story succinctly and explosively to his audience. I don’t usually recommend that writers try to sell sell sell their projects in the query, but this hard-driving pitch fit the energy and edge of the character and action being described.

Lastly, this little personal note at the end told me that Karsten had been reading my blog – – and that he is looking for an editorial agent…those let me know that he was taking this submission process seriously and targeting the query in a personal way. (The book comes out summer 2011.)

This post is an online exclusive complement
to a spotlight on Karsten in a forthcoming
issue of WD. If you don’t have a sub to
Writer’s Digest, what are you waiting for?
Get one now!

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4 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Mary Kole and “Wildefire”

  1. Marissa Meyer

    Well, I’m a twenty-something woman and I know I can’t wait to get my hands on this book! (If that means anything, haha.)

    The concept is so strong and the query incredibly well-written, particularly the hilarious bullet-points. A lot can be taken away from this. I’m sure I would have requested pages too!

  2. Kristan

    I’m curious what makes him think the book has crossover appeal to twenty-something women in particular…

    Other than that one remark, I thought the query was incredibly strong, for all the reasons Mary discussed, and if I were an agent, I don’t think I could have passed on it either.


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