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Successful Queries: Agent Steven Malk and “The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic”

Categories: Children's Writing, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Successful Queries.

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 50th installment in this series is with agent Steven Malk (Writers House) and his author, Jennifer Trafton, for the kids novel, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic (Dec. 2010)a book that received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was called “a funny, witty read” by The Chicago Tribune. The book is a middle grade fantasy, and illustrated by Brett Helquist.

Jennifer is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Carmen won.)

Professor Barnabas Quill, Historian
Royal Library
Candlenut Village Square
Island at the Center of Everything
Most Esteemed Sir:

I would like to present for your consideration my true account of the recent dramatic events experienced by my native land, the Island at the Center of Everything, and her illustrious though sometimes self-indulgent monarch King Lucas the Loftier. By now you have perhaps heard news of our near-disastrous brush with obliteration when we discovered that the mountain upon which our beloved castle lay was, in fact, a giant asleep under a thousand-year-old blanket of earth and grass. Perhaps even rumors of civil war, treachery against the crown by the oppressed workers of the king’s pepper mill, the heroic deeds of young Persimmony Smudge and her friend Worvil, and the mysterious prophecies of the Lyre-That-Never-Lies have reached your ears. My scrupulously researched narrative, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, is an attempt to set the record straight once and for all. I humbly apply for your aid in securing a suitable publisher for my manuscript, as I am anxious to warn the rest of the world about the perils of not being fully aware of what lies under one’s feet.

I can assure you that my qualifications for this task are more than adequate, since I have spent fifty years of my life in the castle as royal historian and written numerous critically-acclaimed monographs, including Roots Run Deep: A Compendium of Leafeater Lore, Where the Restless Mangroves Roam, and A Brief History of Famous People Eaten by Poison-Tongued Jumping Tortoises (winner of the coveted Arthur P. Pickelheimer Prize for Acrimonious Adverbs). I expect that The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic will find most welcome reception among those in the so-called “middle grades,” since anyone younger may find it difficult to read such words as “discumbersomebubblated,” and anyone older will be far too dull-witted to apprehend the dire importance of the story. It is 66,637 words long, written on the finest parchment paper in ink made from the sap of a coconut palm, and contains no less than fifteen semi-colons.

I have chosen to approach you with my urgent request because of the honor of your name and the loyalty you inspire in those who have entrusted their books to your care. After all, if you can help convince the public to believe in the moon falling down, what better advocate could I hope for in convincing them to beware of a mountain falling down?

May I be so bold as to send the manuscript for your perusal?

Yours respectfully,

Barnabas Quill

P.S. Please direct all future correspondence to my assistant Jennifer Trafton, who (like Persimmony Smudge herself) has an incurable aversion to housework and who dreams of doing something more glorious than sharpening my quill pens.

Commentary from Steven Malk:

This was one of the more unusual query letters that I’ve received and it really worked. Jennifer took a bit of a risk by writing it from the perspective of one of her characters, but it stood out to me immediately. What really drew me in was that she had a clear voice that I could pick up on from the first couple of sentences. I’m always after a strong voice when I consider new material, and I knew right away that this book would be distinct in that regard. I felt invested in the book and the characters, and I hadn’t even started the manuscript.

I also could tell that Jennifer had a strong command over her characters and that her manuscript would have classic influences, which is something that I always like. Beyond that, it was obvious that Jennifer had a great sense of humor, which seemed like it would be on full display in the manuscript.

Query letters can be hard to write but they’re also a great opportunity to really show an agent who you are and what makes you stand out. Jennifer went about this in a very original way, and, after reading the letter, I felt that I knew exactly what sort of person she was: smart, witty, and full of imagination. I was very happy to be right. (The book was released in Dec. 2010. Buy it here.)

Jennifer is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before.
(Update: Carmen won.)

The Oct. 2010 issue of WD has several
examples of successful queries.
If you don’t have a sub to Writer’s Digest,
download the Oct 2010 issue here!




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49 Responses to Successful Queries: Agent Steven Malk and “The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic”

  1. killerstory says:

    Very interesting. You could break the rules with your writing.

  2. Wow! I won the copy.

    I got it yesterday and have already started reading it.

    Thanks so much Chuck for running this great blog and Jennifer for writing such an intriguing query and book.

    The fact that the pictures are from Brett Helquist, the illustrator of The Series of Unfortunate Events, is just the icing.

  3. Sarah says:

    I’ve always wondered how conventional and business-like you should be during a query…this shows me that you can be fun and creative with the process.

    I think this letter is perfect in one regard. I read the query – and instantly wanted to read the book. Sold.

  4. This did not feel like a query at all, but a part of the book, and I was getting a fabulous taste of what was in store. I am humbled by her humor and creativity.

  5. Michelle A says:

    Talk about a letter that reads itself aloud. Very nice.

  6. Rianne Kravitz says:

    What a great letter! I really must read the book now!

  7. Congratulations Jennifer, you’re an idol to all who aspire to Publishing Bliss! Keep up the good work and see you at the Island at the Center of Everything! ~ AND a shout out to Barnabas Quill.

  8. Marlo says:

    This is the first query I’ve read. It inspires me to look into this site some more, and even more to get my hands on a copy of that book.

  9. What an ingenious query! It’s made me realize new possiblities in writing queries. Congratulations, Jennifer.

  10. What an ingenious query! It’s made me think of new possiblities in writing queries. Congratulations, Jennifer.

  11. Natalie Aguirre says:

    Great query Jennifer. And you were so brave to do something unique. I write middle grade high fantasy and would love to read your book.

    Natalie Aguirre rmarma2@yahoo.com

  12. Carrie says:

    Face meltingly awesome query! Nothing better than seeing a query take a risk and make it work for them. Love, love, love this.

  13. Angie says:

    Completely intrigued by the query. Will be careful to look for what’s underfoot until such time as I am educated through the reading of the entire manuscript.

  14. Yahong Chi says:

    Oh, I so want to read this book! Great to see how such a unique query worked.

  15. Jeanne says:

    Our critique group has been helping one of our members with her query for a novel–I think we are on rendition six. Easy to spot the great queries, which Jennifer’s is, hard to write.

    Sounds like a great book, love the cover.

  16. This is the most original query I’ve ever read. Yes, she was very brave. I think if I had tried something like that I’d be laughed into the recycling bin. But she makes it work. I especially like the part where she mentions the reading age group. Fun.

  17. gutsy query letter. i’m glad it worked!

    — Tom

  18. Wow!

    Breaks all the rule and works beautifully!

    I guess the only rules is that it works.

    Can’t wait to read the book.

  19. Melissa Huitt says:

    From her query letter, Jennifer strikes me as a cross between Cressida Cowell and Robin McKinley, both of whom I adore. I would love to read this!

  20. I’m looking forward to reading this!

  21. Well, my goodness gracious, I am not of the middle grades anymore. Still, I am not too dull witted to desire to journey to the Island at the Center of Everything to meet Professor Quill and Persimmony Smudge. I would be truly delighted to win this book and would

  22. Lindsey Howard says:

    Very nicely done! I’m not part of the writing world, so I’ve never even heard of a query letter. I got here via twitter. If I were a literary agent, I’d publish your book. Also, as a teacher, this sounds like a book my 5th graders would love.

  23. M Ramsay says:

    I was hoping Mr. Malk would comment on the significance of the number of semicolons.

  24. Excellent writing! I can perfectly understand why the publisher was drawn in. Jennifer has a great grasp of what details to give out to whet your appetite, while not giving away too much, leaving you hungry and curious.

  25. Aaron says:

    What an entertaining read! It almost inspires me to consider becoming a literary agent… but then I remember that letters like Jennifer’s are the exception to a very large rule, and I demur to the still-rumbling inspiration.

    Thanks for sharing!

  26. Heather says:

    Forget the agent! After reading this letter, I need to read this book!

  27. Stella Michel says:

    Okay, I am impressed. What a great feat! That query took bravery and damn good writing skills. Nice job, Congratulations, Jennifer.

  28. Gypsy says:

    Wow. Very few writers could pull this off, but Jennifer aced it. Nicely done!

  29. even if i don’t win the book, i’ll still buy it for my 8 yr old. he’s always looking for good reading material.

  30. Christina says:

    What an appropriate query letter for the silver installment of "Successful Queries." Gorgeous and cutting edge. Congratulations, Jennifer, and the world of MG readers who will enjoy your book!

  31. It’s really cool to see how she constructed the letter giving us information in every ounce of available space. She kept in character all the way from the address at the top – Professor Barnabas Quill from the Island at the Center of Everything – to the bottom in the P.S. where you learn even more about Persimmony Smudge (aversion to housework, etc.). Very cute and very well done. if I was an agent I would’ve signed her too! Can’t wait to read the book and thanks for sharing.

  32. Cindi Kerr says:

    This query sucked me right in.
    For many years, both of my kids have been fascinated with a puzzle we have that depicts a castle on what appears to be a mountain but is actually a giant. I am positive the kids will enjoy reading The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic again and again, imagining Mount Majestic to be the mountain in their puzzle.
    Congratulation, Jennifer Trafton, on a remarkable query and selling your book!

  33. Theresa Schultz says:

    What a fun query letter for what I am sure is a fantastic book. Kudos to Jennifer for taking a chance with an unusual query. It really paid off.

  34. Shades of Lemony Snicket! This looks like a very fun book and I would love to read it–and review it on my blog!

  35. Jenna says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Jennifer’s query letter drips with talent and imagination. I think this encourages all writers to give it their all and write from the heart. It also inspired me to keep trying and never give up.

  36. An amazing letter! I love it when breaking the rules makes all the right moves. Shamefully, I feel a little intimidated by this. I got sucked into the story almost immediately. I’d love to read it!

  37. Kristan says:

    LOVE the cover, LOVE the query! Of course I’ve heard that you "never" write a query from the character’s POV… but obviously Justin Bieber was right. Never say never!

  38. A perfect example of how to make your query letter sell your book. Thank you for posting this. I only hope (for agents’ sakes), that they don’t become innundated with this type of query now. Not many people could pull this off so well!

  39. The expression, you can’t tell a book by its cover myth has also been smashed. From the first look at the cover, to having the pleasure of "hearing" this enchanting tale, I was hooked. It is easy to see how an agent would be hooked as well.

  40. Cori says:

    I have sooooo wanted to write a query from my MC’s POV, but everyone says it is taboo, so I’ve never had the guts. I’m glad that Ms. Trafton did, though– it’s witty and entertaining… and it worked. I want my son to read the book now- I’m sure it is excellent.

  41. Annette Lyon says:

    At seeing the cover I immediately recognized the artist from the Lemony Snicket books. The query has the same off-beat sense of humor–and a voice that’s not far off from Snicket’s narrative.

    A perfect match!

    I read all the Snicket books to my kids–they’d gobble this one up too, I think.

  42. What a smashing letter, Jennifer!!! Well done!!!

  43. Ariel says:

    Hey! I would LOVE LOVE & LOVE to read this book and if I don’t win I will buy it :)

  44. Holly Grant says:

    Congratulations, Jennifer! I love the query letter and can’t wait to read the book. It sounds wonderful.

  45. I love this! It totally make me want to read the book. It just screams fun and adventure.

  46. This was the most fun query I’ve ever read. And now that I really want to read the book, I’d love to win a copy!

  47. Wow! This goes to show that you can break all the rules as long as you write well. Very impressive indeed.

  48. Sarah Allen says:

    Just gotta say, I love this series. Nothing helps me more than seeing actual queries that worked, seeing them for myself. Thanks for this wonderful information!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  49. Crazy to see that this query breaks the rules, yet it is SO GOOD. The voice just drips off it! I wish I could win the free copy…

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