Successful Queries: Agent Sarah Davies and “The Rules For Disappearing”

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 63rd installment in this series is with agent Sarah Davies (Greenhouse Literary) for Ashley Elston’s young adult thriller, THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING (Disney-Hyperion, May 2013). Find Ashley on Twitter here.

(Can writers query multiple agents at the same agency?)


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Dear Ms. Davies,

The first placement sucked. The suits dropped us in some remote part of Ohio and expected us to fit right in. Found out real quick why you never hear anything interesting about Ohio.

The second placement was better. At least it was a decent city. Learned a hard lesson there. When the suits tell you not to use the Internet, you should listen.

The third placement was the longest and the hardest to leave. The suits yanked us from there minutes before my Homecoming date arrived. I still wonder how long he waited for me.

The fourth placement was the beginning of the end. I tried hard to fit in, but that led to making friends and then really awkward questions like, “What’s wrong with your mom?”

The fifth placement only lasted a matter of weeks. Mom was drunk more than sober and my little sister moved into a catatonic state.

We’re in our sixth placement now. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to pull it off, but I’m not running anymore. I’m done with Witness Protection. No matter what it takes.

THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING is a young adult contemporary novel complete at 72,000 words. The first five pages are included below. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Ashley Elston

(11 ways to assist a friend in promoting their new book.)


Agent Sarah Davies’s Commentary:

I love YA thrillers, and I’d worked on, and successfully represented, a few by the time Ashley’s query came into my inbox. I never want to be typecast as someone who reps too many of one genre, but I did feel at that time that I could afford to take on another author writing in that area. So, the ground was fertile – which is an important factor.

The whole idea of Witness Protection is fascinating to me, and it taps into core teenage themes – like identity, independence. It also provides a strong route into classic thriller territory, enabling the characters to have secrets, double lives, and for the author to build a twisty plot that springs major surprises (which is exactly what Ashley does so effectively in the story). I could see the potential of the storyline, and I liked the ‘numbered’ style of how Ashley jumped right into her pitch, which showed me that the stakes were already escalating for her protagonist. Finally, she tells us that ‘I’m done with Witness Protection’ – so we know we’re at a key moment in the character’s relationship with the protection scheme. The scene is therefore immediately set for things to go terribly wrong – which is great! There was no doubt for me that the author ‘gets’ the idea of high stakes, pace, tension, which are so crucial with this kind of story. The references to the protagonist’ s mom, sister and abandoned Homecoming date were all important in pointing up that there would be relationship and family conflicts to give the story emotional impact.

All this said, the query is a little ‘bare bones’. Yes, I like its terseness and it works well for this particular kind of plot, but Ashley could have given just a little more. Also, there’s no bio here. In this instance, her background (as daughter of a lawyer) is actually quite pertinent and definitely informed the story she chose to write. It’s always good to include anything relevant like this, and I was very happy when I found out some of the inspiration for the story.

So, my attention was definitely tickled by the query, and I felt at that point that there was room in the market for something like this. However, it was all to play for as I read the opening pages, and I’m happy to say that I enjoyed them very much.


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3 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Sarah Davies and “The Rules For Disappearing”

  1. motherstreusel

    I think it comes down to the fact that people are unique. We respond to different things and it can be difficult to predict what a stranger likes. The rules of a query letter exist because it has the broadest appeal. Following format shows awareness, professionalism, seriousness. The information that they tell you to give matches what most agents and publishers use to make their decisions. But in the end, if you grab someone’s attention and they decide they like what they see, you have succeeded. This letter was riskier, but it worked.

  2. mhender668

    This query illustrates why writers pull their hair out trying to write queries. We research it, we come to sites like this, read the queries, the analysis, the “do’s” and “don’ts,” and beat our heads against the wall trying to figure it out.

    Here’s one that breaks all the rules:

    Don’t write it from the POV of your protag
    Give a bio
    Say why you chose this agent
    Give comps

    But it works. It’s good. I would want to read it. You know immediately what the story is, who the protag is, what the goal is, and what the stakes are. You know the inciting incident.

    So, what does that all mean? It means that it boils down to the writing and to the story. The format is virtually irrelevant if you have that.


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