Successful Query: Whitney Gardner & You’re Welcome, Universe

This post is part of a series called Successful Queries. It features actual query letter examples to literary agents that were successful for authors. In addition to the query letter, you’ll also see the thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked. Today’s features debut novelist Whitney Gardner and her agent Brent Taylor (Triada US, Inc.).

Whitney GardnerYou're Welcome Universe, Whitney Gardner











Whitney Gardner is an author, illustrator, and coffee addict. Originally from New York, she studied design and worked as an art teacher and school librarian before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she lives by a bridge with her husband and two pugs. In the rare moment Whitney isn’t writing or drawing, she’s likely to be reading comics, knitting, and tending her garden or apiary. YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE is her debut novel.

Brent Taylor is an associate literary agent and foreign rights manager at Triada US, Inc. He represents upmarket fiction (novels that are well-written, robust with emotion, and appeal to a wide, commercial audience) across a broad range of categories: picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, women’s fiction, crime fiction, and literary fiction. You can find him on Twitter @btaylorbooks.

Whitney’s Query:

Dear Brent,

Thank you for the book recommendations on Twitter! I checked out your bio on Publisher’s Marketplace and I immediately thought of sending you my contemporary, illustrated YA novel, YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE.

When your favorite after-school activity is tagging walls, friends are a liability. Julia learned this the hard way, when she covered up the slur about her best friend with a beautiful (albeit illegal) mural. Sprayed right across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf.

Her best friend snitches, her principal expels her, and her mothers set Julia up with a one way ticket to a mainstream school in the suburbs. Utterly deserted, the only thing she has left is her art. Not even Banksy himself could get her to give that up.

Out in the ‘burbs, she paints anywhere she can, ready to claim some turf and make a new name for herself. A tag on a sign, a piece on an overpass. An artist can’t help but create, but Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town.

Someone has been adding to her tags, making them better, and showing off. She expected her art might get painted over by cops, but she never imagined getting involved in a graffiti war. Now, Julia must show up her rival or face being painted into obscurity. But when her opponent takes it a step too far, Julia has to decide between anonymity or getting caught.

YOU’RE WELCOME, UNIVERSE is an honest look into the life of a girl who is trying to make her mark on the world, and ends up making her first life long friend. It’s THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN meets EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP. It has been read by interpreters and Deaf beta readers to ensure a full and accurate picture of Julia’s experience as a Deaf girl. I’ve drawn sample images from the book which can be viewed here: It is complete at 58,000 words. You will find the first ten pages below.

Thank you for your time,

Whitney Gardner


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Commentary from Literary Agent Brent Taylor:

When Whitney’s query showed up in my inbox, I was immediately intrigued. The first line is filled with tension: after-school tagging, the hint of a friendship betrayal. I immediately connect to Julia, because Whitney has shown that she’s fiercely loyal to her friend (by being proactive and covering up a slur about her) and that she possesses a rebellious, bold personality (by covering up the slur … with a huge graffiti mural on their school building!).

In the third and fourth paragraphs of the query letter, Whitney effortlessly takes us into the impetus of the story: Julia feeling like a fish-out-of-water in her new school, and clinging to her art as the one thing she abso-freaking-lutely refuses to give up. I felt incredibly sympathetic to Julia when I read this. The hint that Julia might not be the only vandal in town sealed the deal for me: at this point, I had to get my hands on this manuscript and find out what exactly that meant for Julia and her art.

The fifth paragraph of Whitney’s query introduces the high stakes. Julia must show up her rival, or she risks losing the most important thing in her life … her identity as an artist. There are so many turns-of-phrase in this paragraph that are exciting and stand out: “graffiti war,” “rival,” “anonymity or getting caught.”

Whitney closes the query letter by giving a terrific sense of what the heart of this story is, and where it fits in the market. I love her comparison to THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, because it helped me visualize what the manuscript would look like since she’s pitched it as an illustrated novel. In this paragraph, Whitney also makes it clear that she’s done her research, and this entire paragraph led me to believe that Whitney had a great sense of the YA market.

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