Successful Queries: Agent Michelle Brower and “The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors”

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. 

The 34th installment in this series is with agent Michelle Brower (Folio Literary) and her author, Michele Young-Stone, for the literary fiction novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors (April 2010).


Dear Ms. Brower:

Please consider representing my novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.

A literary novel, The Handbook… spans nineteen years in the lives of the two main characters (Becca, born into privilege in 1969, and Buckley, born into poverty in 1959), and suggests that people, however disparate, are linked. The 400-page narrative encompasses multiple themes, but ultimately the book is a story of redemption.

Buckley, whose mother is struck dead by lightning, writes a nonfiction handbook, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, excerpts of which appear throughout the novel. Becca, a repeat lightning strike survivor, buys Buckley’s Handbook through an ad in the back pages of a magazine. Becca and Buckley, destined to collide, meet during a massive electrical storm where there is a surprising reversal of fortune.

Structurally, the novel tells Becca’s story, then Buckley’s—the tension mounting until the two meet.

I am a thirty-four year old MFA fiction graduate My screenplay Spotting Normal was a 2003 semi-finalist for the Chesterfield Writers Film Project Award and a 2004 finalist for the CineStory screenwriting award. My story “Cop Drag” was a finalist in the First Annual Lewis Nordan Fiction Contest sponsored by Algonquin Books. My second screenplay, Paint Spain With Bart, was a finalist in the 2006 Screenplay Festival Contest sponsored by InkTip. I am currently halfway through my second novel.

Let me know if I may send you the first 100 pages or the full manuscript.

All Best,

Michele Young-Stone


Commentary from Michelle


Michele’s query absolutely jumped out from the slushpile for me, at first for one reason alone: her title was
amazing. For all readers, a title creates a visceral response, and as agents, we want that response to be “I must pick this book up!” In this case, there is what we call a “high concept” aspect to the plot–two separate characters, different in almost every way, are linked together by lightning–and the title conveyed that quickly and with great charm. I knew that if the story and the writing lived up to the promise of the title, I would find a receptive audience for this book among publishers. I always think that a really good book can make up
for a bad title that will eventually be changed down the line, and no title is good enough to cover for shoddy writing, but this letter is a good example of how the perfect title can really light up a query.

In reading this letter, I could also tell that this story hit the right beats for book club fiction, and the kind of thing I love to read even if it’s something I’m reading for pleasure. It seemed quirky yet deep, and Michele’s bio showed that she had spent time developing her craft and had been nominated for some awards. I truly became hooked once I started reading the sample pages, and became quickly convinced that there was something special going on here. I knew I had to work with Michele on this book when I got to the ending and cried my eyes out. Happily, editors and now reviewers have agreed with me! The Handbook has been piling up accolades and we are all so excited to see it make its way to bookstores.


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3 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Michelle Brower and “The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors”

  1. Che

    The hook is fine, but a query letter isn’t just a hook. It’s a composition. A hook alone is not enough to sell by. Maybe in this instance, but otherwise not often.

  2. Kristan

    Hmm, I disagree with Che. This query totally hooked my interest as a reader. I’ll definitely be looking for this book on shelf. I guess that’s the good (and bad?) thing about this biz: it’s all about personal taste.

    Anyhoot, congrats to Michele and Michelle, and thanks for sharing!

  3. Che

    Again, not a good query letter. It just goes to show that you never know what will get an agent’s attention.

    Main crime? "Show don’t tell." Second crime? It wastes crucial intro space with "I’d like you to…" (You’re querying, if course that’s what you want; see Query Shark last week for more info). Third crime? NEVER put "didn’t win but got second" stuff, unless it’s a HUGE prize. Finishing second in some backwater screenplay contest is not noteworthy. Not to mention that those "also rans" took place up to SEVEN years ago. Were the screenplays bought? Made into movies? Does this agent represent screenplays? And how is "being halfway through" a second novel even remotely relevant?

    A successful query letter, apparently. But a good one? No.


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