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  • Guide to Literary Agents

Successful Queries: Agent Rebecca Strauss and “Stay” by Allie Larkin

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Contests, Successful Queries, Women's Fiction.

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 37th installment in this series is with agent Rebecca Strauss f(ormerly of McIntosh & Otis and now at DeFiore & Company as of 2013)and her author, Allie Larkin, for the women’s fiction novel, Stay (which was just published this week by Dutton!).

Dear Ms. Strauss,

What happens when you find love and he finds your best friend instead?

If you’re Savannah Leone, you tear off your orange satin maid-of-honor gown, get drunk on Kool-Aid and vodka, and buy a German Shepherd from Slovakia off of the Internet.

In Stay, Savannah, “Van,” struggles with the marriage of her best friend to the man she’s secretly in love with, the loss of her mother to cancer, and all the confusion that goes along with the “now what” stage of twenty-something life. She’s lost her sense of which end is up, so she’s acting on impulses that lead her to love, strength, and a ninety-five pound dog named Joe.

Her inexperience with dogs leads her to consult Dr. Alex Brandt, a vet with floppy blond hair and a winning smile. But just as things are starting to heat up with Alex, the newlyweds come home from their honeymoon, forcing Van to decide between past relationships and the promise of new ones.

Stay is women’s fiction and is approximately 80,000 words. I’ve also written an outline for a sequel.

I live in upstate New York with my 95-pound German Shepherd, (who is from the Catskills, not Slovakia), and write AlliesAnswers.com, a daily eco-friendly blog. My short story, “Bathtub Mary,” will appear in the March 2008 issue of The Summerset Review.

I’ve enclosed the first two chapters and a synopsis. Thank you for taking the time to review my materials.

Best regard,

Allie Larkin
Commentary from Rebecca

So, what grabbed my attention? Well, in addition to doing everything right in terms of process (she spelled my name correctly and wrote in a professional manner), Allie looked at my submission guidelines—and followed them. Huge points! She did her research; she saw which genres I represented and what materials I requested. This set Allie’s letter apart from many others. I know, I know. This all sounds so simple and you’ve heard it before, but it makes a difference.

Next, Allie’s done a great job of giving me what we call “an elevator pitch” for her novel. She was able to sum up the major plot of the book succinctly and with charm. Agents have to pitch to editors, just like authors pitch to agents; and, we need to encapsulate a project simply and quickly. What’s the hook? What’s the major conflict? Who are the central characters? Why would readers care?

Allie also successfully painted vivid characters and illustrated the main tension in just a few paragraphs. By using only a handful of details, she created a fully realized snapshot of the work. How can you not hiccup with laughter after reading: “If you’re Savannah Leone, you tear off your orange satin maid-of-honor gown, get drunk on Kool-Aid and vodka, and buy a German Shepherd from Slovakia off of the Internet”? And, with a few brush strokes, “floppy blond hair and a winning smile,” I definitely wanted to know more about this Alex. Sounds cute! And, I quickly learned about the conflict: Van is in love with her best friend’s husband. So, Allie swiftly told me that this wasn’t a generic project: Van is struggling with serious issues re: love, loss, and friendship. I asked the question I always ask myself when reading a query: Could I imagine an audience for this? My answer? A resounding yes. Not only is the character dealing with major conflict in an intriguing love triangle, but there’s a dog involved?! I’m in.

Allie wrapped it all up with the vital stats of genre and word count. She didn’t say that she’d written the next 17 books in the series, but that she had an outline for a sequel. Smart. If the first book needed major work, why invest so much in a sequel that’s going to need overhauling? Finally, Allie showed that she’s devoted to writing. She pursued publication in literary magazines. This is not a necessity, but it does demonstrate tenacity, persistence and professionalism. And, if you’re here, reading these posts and working hard on your projects, you have these characteristics and you’re already setting yourself apart!

And Now for the Contest!

In honor of Stay‘s publication week, I’m offering to critique a query letter and the first two pages of a manuscript for one writer.

To enter, leave a comment on this post. For three more chances to win, leave a comment on the below links. One comment per person per post, please. You don’t have to have a finished manuscript to enter, although if you do, all the better.

1. http://allielarkin.blogspot.com/
2. http://www.corinnebowen.com/2010/06/stay-by-allie-larkin-query-contest/
3. http://wendypinkstoncebula.blogspot.com/2010/06/stay-debut-and-query-contest.html

If your commenting profile doesn’t link to an e-mail address where we can reach you if you win, make sure to either leave your e-mail address in comments, or e-mail (info[at]allielarkinwrites[dot]com) after you leave a comment on Allie’s blog, with Query Contest in the subject line and your comment name in the body of the e-mail.




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101 Responses to Successful Queries: Agent Rebecca Strauss and “Stay” by Allie Larkin

  1. MaryAnn Kempher says:

    Ms Strauss I met you at the Backspace Conference last November. You requested I send a revised query letter and the first five pages. You passed on my book.

    I have taken the last four months to rewrite my query, taking into consideration the feedback you gave me at the conference.

    I have also made significant changes to the book. I would very much appreciate it if you took another look at my work.

    MaryAnn Kempher


  2. Deb Jones says:

    I hope I didn’t miss the contest and I love the style of Allie’s query letter. I do hope one day I’ll have what it takes…alas, as of now I can only sit and ponder and hope to win the query critique of course!

  3. Lexy Obasuyi says:

    I love Allie’s query letter. It start’s strong, it’s humorous and there’s not a dull moment anywhere. I especially like how she started it off with the "kool aid and vodka". That had to be my favorite part. I can only hope that I’ll be able to develop skills like her’s, but with everything buzzing around this high school junior, it’s probably something I’ll have to work really hard on.

    alexisobasuyi AT gmail dot com

  4. Diana Layne says:

    I am finding these samples of successful query letters very helpful, thank you.

    dianalayne [at] yahoo [dot] com

  5. I needed this! I’ve finished and polished and cuddled and buffed my quirky women’s fiction, but am hesitant to begin the query stage. Querying is tough, lots of waiting and rejection. Today its still my precious. Having this great example of what really works and why has inspired me to maybe put it out there. Close my eyes. Hold my breath. Breathe. Thank you!

  6. Sam Irwin says:

    I’ve written an offbeat novel and had some success in getting agents to look at it but no takers. I’ve revamped my query letter and it would be wonderful if you could take a look at it.

    Sam Irwin

  7. J. Alison Cole says:

    J. Alison Cole, paused as she looked at the screen, pondering what to say. A contest for her query letter to be seen. Who would have ever thought it could be so frightening, so humbling, all her insecurities flooding to the surface. Almost sounds like a women’s fiction novel. Good thing I have one done. Love for you to see it.

  8. I’m just writing my first query letter, so a critique of it would be amazing! Please enter me into the contest :-)

  9. Shizuka says:

    Wish I could write a funny, engaging query like Allie’s.
    Sigh. I’m off to work like mad on the one I’ve got, hoping I win this contest.
    Thanks for posting this!

  10. pat says:

    I would love a query letter and a two page professional perusal for my YA about a car loving girl.

    Thanks for the great example.

  11. Margaret Corbitt says:

    Thank you for the example. I need all the help I can get! Count me in too, please.

  12. Brenda Gayle says:

    Thank you Allie and Rebecca. Concrete examples are very useful tools from which to learn. I am at the point of querying a completed manuscript. I think we forget while we’re writing our books that getting to "The End" is only the first stage of the process. We then have to shift gears from being authors to being promoters–not always an easy thing to do.

    Thanks again for posting this, and for the contest.


  13. Kathy says:

    Well, I’ll make it 89 comments.

    I agree. This was a great query. It’s so difficult to write a marketing letter, but in today’s world, we have to learn to do so.

    Thanks to both Allie and Rebecca for agreeing to post this.

  14. Connie Berg says:

    Allie’s query letter made me want to read the book too!
    Sign me up for the contest: Connie Berg connie@eatingsunshine.com

  15. Sarah Winch says:

    Great query! And a very good example of an "elevator pitch." Can’t wait to read Stay!

  16. Finally at the query letter phase of writing, and not a little terrified, I found this site, drank in this particular letter and its finesse, and experienced relief. Tough as it will be to be as concise and clever as Allie Larkin, the feedback Ms. Strauss offers is a a helpful nudge.

  17. Jeanmarie Anaya says:

    So envious of that query letter. I am glad to see that it starts with a question. My query letter starts with a question, too, and I was feeling like it wouldn’t work. Now I have hope that it can!

    Please enter me in the contest. janaya75@hotmail.com

  18. Vicki says:

    Thanks for doing this. I’d love to have a critique of my query. They are often times harder to write than the book itself. Thanks so much for doing this contest and for sharing a fabulous query with us.

    vickilanewrites @yahoo.com

  19. Tom Bentley says:

    Rebecca, no dogs in my query (and no floppy-haired charmers), but I’d still like to give it a shot. Thanks for the informative post.

  20. KC Frantzen says:

    I need help with my query and would love your input. We have a dog but… shhhh… she’s a K9 spy! :)

  21. Jennifer says:

    I kind of forgot that I was searching "successful queries" and got completely involved with the story being pitched. I can’t wait to read it!
    Enter me!

  22. Lisa Aldin says:

    Enter me! I bought this book, too. It looks great.

  23. Burke Holbrook says:

    I love the description of Savannah Leone in the second paragraph. That line alone would have carried me through the rest of this well written query.
    Thank you for this blog, query examples and feedback. It has been very helpful.9yxxe
    Please include me in your contest.

  24. Cynda Strong says:

    I love the short opening line – as a question. I was also impressed with the way Allie gave us a glimpse of herself without going overboard with a list of "credentials". We definitely see her personality come through in her description of the book itself also.
    Yes, enter me in the contest!

  25. Celeste Cole says:

    I especially love the first line of this query, and the cover. I can also see this as a movie plot. Please enter me in the contest!

  26. Liz Fenton says:

    Thanks Rebecca! Great insight. And on a side note, I can’t wait to read Allie’s book!

  27. Vermilion says:

    The main reason I’m commenting here is because of the contest run by Ms. Rebecca, although I must say I’m also intrigued by the query and how well it is written. I thought it was especially smart of Ms. Allie to describe Alex as "floppy blond hair," which can also be used to describe a dog. Plus, with such a lovable cover, I’m sure the book will do well in sales. :)

  28. Kate T. says:

    Amazing pitch! If I could write one like that, I’d be elated. Count me in for the contest too!

  29. Pete I. says:

    The "eleavator pitch" was complete and to the point. Very nice.
    Sure, I’ll also try the contest…..

  30. Chris Bailey says:

    I love that Allie Larkin jumps right in to an issue that’s real–and also a real taboo! Please enter me in the contest. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

  31. This query makes me want to read the book. It’s concise, to-the-point and I’d venture to guess it conveys the tone and voice of the novel.

    That’s why this post is so helpful. There’s so much advice out there for query writing that it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. The point is, the query needs to MAKE YOU WANT TO READ THE BOOK.

    Great post! Please enter me in the contest, as well. Thanks!

  32. Cyndi Tefft says:

    Great post! We can never have too many examples of successful queries. Please enter me in the contest. Thanks!

  33. Miles McGuinness says:

    Great job, Allie, Chuck, and Rebecca! I really do love this whole successful query bit on this site; I can honestly admit my queries are definitely in need of some help! So, all in all, congrats Allie on your novel and Rebecca, thank you very much for doing this contest!

    Please enter me in the contest. :D

  34. Sara B says:

    Nice query – the novel sounds like a great read, and right up my alley! I’ll be looking for it on the shelves.

    Please enter me in the contest, too. :)

  35. J.M. Lacey says:


    I realize I’ve echoed these sentiments before, but your blog offers helpful and valid information. I’ve enjoyed the "Successful Queries" section in particular because I appreciate knowing what the agents are looking for, not only in a query letter, but in a marketable topic. Understanding agents’ tastes, peeves and their overall thought process is key in query preparation. Keep up the good work!

  36. Lorena Hughes says:

    I definitely want to read this book! Please sign me up for the contest too.

  37. Jared Larson says:

    Awesome post and an awesome example. Thank you. Sign me up for the contest as well. Thank you so much.

  38. That was a great query! And I’d love the critiques.

    thorntonstephanie at hotmail dot com


  39. Veronica Rossi says:

    Great query. I’m buying this novel! Contest sounds great- I am in!

  40. Lisa K. says:

    What an engaging query letter. It left me with a smile on my face.

  41. Elena Patrick says:

    This is a great query. I can see why Rebecca liked it.
    I’d love to enter the contest. Thanks.

  42. Melissa says:

    I love this series. It is very helpful and I smile when I see people getting through the slush pile. I’d love to enter the contest

  43. Jen J. Danna says:

    As someone currently in query tweaking hell for a completed manuscript, I really enjoy this series. Thank you for sharing them with us so that we can hopefully learn from those who have successfully gone before us. ‘Stay’ sounds like a very fun read and I love series, so that makes it an even more attractive prospect if the story might continue further than one single book.

    I would love to be entered in the contest: (jenjdanna(at)gmail(dot)com).

  44. Great query. Good luck Allie.
    Please enter me in the contest.

  45. To be honest the dog cover threw me off — I’m a bit bored with the ‘learning about life by raising a dog’ stories, but I liked how there seems to be good deal more involved. Sounds like an interesting read.

  46. Jo Lawler says:

    Thanks so much for this series – it is really helpful to see what works.
    Please count me in for the contest.

  47. Joyce Lansky says:

    Free critique! Count me in. Thanks for sharing.


  48. Jewls says:

    Thanks for sharing. It’s great to read what Agents value in a query letter. Be honored to have my query critiqued. mackayblindsAT NOSPAMbigpond dot com

  49. Awesome contest. Please count me in!

  50. Very good query letter.
    Please can I enter.
    (I have a finished manuscript – just starting to send it out.)

  51. Krista V. says:

    Nice query, helpful commentary. Thanks!

  52. Tracy Porosoff says:

    I’ve been looking for samples of successful queries and am so happy to have found this blog! Thanks.

  53. Tricia says:

    I want to play. Count me in.

  54. What a great query. This is the kind I strive to write.

  55. Sounds like a good book. That query had me sold. I was under the impression that using a question in a query is not good, but in this case, I can see how it worked. Thanks for sharing.

  56. Laura Perdew says:

    I really appreciate seeing these queries, and learning what an agent thinks. The leap, then, is applying what I learn to my own work! I’d love a query critique. Thank you!

  57. Julie Kibler says:

    Great query letter and sounds like a fun book! Would love to be entered for the opportunity for a query critique.

  58. suze says:

    Thanks for this regular feature – I never tire of looking back through the successful queries and comments – it’s very educational and motivational!

    Looking forward to reading the book :)

  59. Thanks for your critique of the query letter.
    I’m getting mine ready and would love to hear your comments.


  60. Shiela Blankemeier says:

    I appreciate the successful query posting. It helps to see what worked. And thank you so much for the opportunity of the contest, too!

  61. S. Kamal says:


    Thank you for the post. I would like to be considered for the contest…have a manuscript and query letter ready for you to look at. Thanks!

  62. Very helpful query letter information. I’ve found it easier to write the manuscript! Please enter me for the contest also. Thank you,

  63. Eika says:

    Excellent post! I’ve been working on my query recently, but I may actually pass if I get chosen; after sixteen drafts, my critiquers have essentially told me to start from scratch, because I’m clearly doing something wrong. Though they like the story…

    Personally, given the title of the book, I’d think the dog would have more to do with the main plot. Guess things aren’t as they appear.

  64. Lara Ehrlich says:

    Great post! I’m working on my query letter right now, too, and it is by far the most difficult letter I have ever had to write. I think it’s even worse than writing a cover letter for a job, because you’re essentially trying to sell your child. And thank you for the contest!

    Lara Ehrlich

  65. I love reading query letters that worked. Please enter me into the contest.

  66. Donna says:

    So I’m sitting on a bench in uptown NY with a dying laptop battery and my new, best friend who wants to both save my soul and sell me an authentic Coach purse for five dollars. If only the wireless signal I’m borrowing from “MommaToldMeboutU” holds out long enough to enter the contest…I think I’ll take the ebony, evening clutch bag/promise of eternal salvation for five bucks and the rest of my jumbo pretzel. Thanks for the contest

  67. It’s always helpful to see an agent’s thoughts on a good query, paragraph by paragraph. Thanks Rebecca! Please count me in for the contest. :)

  68. Christy Hayes says:

    Great Query. Can’t wait to read your book! Thanks for offering this service, Chuck.

  69. lisa says:

    Can I hear a big WOOT WOOT for women’s fiction?! Dare I say "chick lit?" And the mother of all chick lit is, of course, hen lit – or as I like to call it, chick lit on hormones. Finished ms? You betcha. If you get stuck in the elevator with me, I promise not to push all the buttons. Most, but not all. Thanks for the pitch oportunity.

  70. Stuart Aken says:

    At last! A sample query that actually shows us what it’s all about. Great. I’m in the process at present and was beginning to think I’d never get there. But this has clarified the whole thing and swept away the mist and confusion I’ve battled through on other advice sites. Thanks for this. I might even get my letter written now.

  71. Elizabeth Lynd says:

    This is a good, solid query, and I’m not surprised it garnered a request. I assume it got a lot of requests, in fact. Thanks for this post, and all the other how I got an agent posts. They are really informative and useful.

  72. Kathleen says:

    I thought it was interesting that opening with a question worked. It just goes to show that no "rule" is without an exception. Lately I’ve been reading tons of things that say "No questions at the beginning of a query!" I think the reason it works here is that she answers it right away, and it’s funny.

    I’d love a chance at a review, too! Thanks, Rebecca and GLA!

  73. A very smooth query letter indeed. Thanks for the example and the explanation of what’s working!

    I’d love a chance to have Rebecca review my work too. Please enter me in the contest.

  74. Great query, Allie! I’ve already got an agent (thank you, Universe!), but I’ve tweeted this on Twitter. Rebecca, you rep a good writer friend of mine, so I know you’re awesome. ;-)

  75. christina says:

    Looks GREAT! And thanks for the contest!

  76. Jenn Brisendine says:

    I love the "Successful Queries" series — it’s both helpful and inspiring!
    Please enter me as well. Thanks!

  77. Katie Nelson says:

    Sounds like a great book.

    Please enter me in the contest.

  78. MaryWitzl says:

    I’ve heard you’re not supposed to start query letters with questions, but who cares? I loved that query. I’d definitely read this.

  79. Adam Heine says:

    Count me in for the contest!

  80. Dez says:

    I’m with Fivecats, I’ve heard mixed feelings about starting a query letter with a question. It’s a great query though, not my usual genre, but I was enthralled!

    Thanks for the detailed response on this query, please count me in on the contest! Thanks!

  81. MarcyKate says:

    Great query! So many agents have blogged that the rhetorical question is an overused technique and often backfires, but the opening question in Allie’s letter is a PERFECT example of one that works. Thanks for sharing.

    Please enter me in the contest, too.

    Thanks so much!

  82. Kristan says:

    "Not only is the character dealing with major conflict in an intriguing love triangle, but there’s a dog involved?! I’m in."

    Me too!

    I’m a little late to the party, but I just wanted to say that this sounds like a book I would really enjoy.

  83. David Rvachew says:

    Thank you for giving your time and expertise, and for this contest. Please count me in.


  84. Rivka says:

    I also envy her great query. In many ways it’s harder than writing the book!
    Thanks for the contest, and count me in!

  85. Your successful queries are my favorite part of the blog, and this query was a great example of how to write a good query. Please put my name in for the contest. Thanks.

  86. M. Gray says:

    I love how Ms. Larkin mentions she’s outlined a sequel. What a great finishing touch on a great query letter.

  87. Elaine Lies says:

    I’m struggling through the query process myself and it’s great to both be able to see the query and hear Rebecca’s response — more grist for the mill! I’d love to be entered for the contest, too. Thanks.

  88. What a great contest, and I am intrigued by the letter. it makes me want to read the book. Put me down to enter as well!


  89. Perri says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book! This query makes it look so easy, clear and concise AND specific.

    Please enter me in the contest as well.


  90. Barbara Watson says:

    New to the trying-to-get-published world, I’m appreciating every bit of advice I can gather. Through various sources, I’ve gathered the extreme importance of the query (after just learning what one was two weeks ago).

  91. Bontemps says:

    This was a good letter to read. I’m not quite at the query stage (still in revisions), but it’s great for me to get an idea of what’s needed in a query.

    I’m also interested in the contest.

  92. fivecats says:

    I have read conflicting things about beginning a query with a question. I suppose it comes down to a matter of personal choice for the author as much as the querying agent.

    I’m in for the contest as well!

  93. Shannyn says:

    Great query letter. Please enter me in the contest

  94. Richard Bush says:

    Lovely! Just lovely! Count me in on this unique contest of sorts.

    See ya–
    R Bush

  95. Thanks for holding the contest!

  96. Kate Larkindale says:

    Great to see a query letter that actually worked! I’ve been working on mine for months and seeing this one makes me think I’m finally on the right track. This is a great idea for a contest. I know I can use al the help I can get.

  97. Rhen Wilson says:

    I envy Allie. She clearly knows how to write a great query letter. I’ve read dozens and dozens, and I can only hope to one day write a query which will be as successful as Allie’s. Great post! And I look forward to this contest. I could use all the help I can get. Ha!

  98. I love the Successful Queries section of your blog, Chuck. I can see why this query worked!

  99. Suzi McGowen says:

    I’m at the query letter stage myself. I’ve been reading a lot of "what went wrong with this query" type letters, but it’s nice to see "what went right" once in a while. (And have the details of what went right spelled out.)

    All this and a contest too? I’m in :)

  100. Thanks, Rebecca for taking the time to point out the elements of a good query letter. I think sometimes it’s a struggle to figure out how to bring the voice of the book into a query, but as you pointed out, she does it very well with the "kool-aid" line.

    Please enter me in the contest!

  101. I loved her query too. There weren’t any bumps that remind me of hitting a pebble while skating. I’m in for the contest, too!

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