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 57th installment in this series is with agent Jen Rofe (Andrea Brown Literary) for Nick James’s YA novel, Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars (Sept. 2011; Flux). The book was called “a fast-paced adventure that delivers solid action sequences throughout” by Publishers Weekly, while Booklist said, “This first novel is a refreshing departure from the strict dystopian trend. There are plenty of plot surprises and action sequences to keep the pages turning, and the treatment of terrorist attacks and environmental concerns will prompt readers to make connections with their own lives.”
Dear Ms. Rofe:
Fifteen-year-old Jesse Fisher can’t pass a test, pilot a space shuttle, or make it through a day without tripping over his own feet.
Now his clumsiness has cost Skyship Academy a precious Pearl. While on a foolproof mission designed for a trainee, Jesse is ambushed by Cassius, star operative of Madame, the Academy’s ruthless archenemy. And instead of fighting back, he nearly gets himself killed.
In a future Earth drained of its natural resources, Pearls are more valuable than a stack of gold. Just one can power an entire city for months. Madame, the leader of the depleted American government, seeks Pearls to further her own profit. To control them, she needs the power locked inside of Jesse–a power he’s completely oblivious to.
When Madame sends Cassius to capture him, Jesse–eternal klutz and clueless fighter–has a chance to prove he’s not as mondo pathetic as everyone thinks he is. But round two with Cassius yields unexpected revelations as both boys begin to unravel a past that ties them directly to the mystery of Pearls.
Of course, none of this will matter if Jesse can’t find the skill to fight back before Madame’s forces close in and shut him down forever.
Skyship Academy is a 45,000-word YA adventure with series potential aimed at the middle school market. As requested in your submission guidelines, the first ten pages are included at the bottom of this email. A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you.
Commentary From Jen Rofe:
Sci-fi has never been my “thing.” I’m not a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars puts me to sleep, and I can count on one hand the number of sci-fi books I’ve read (until recently, the answer was one — and that’s because I literally had no other book option at the time).
Then I received a query for Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars by Nick James. Nick’s query wasn’t perfect — the storyline was muddled and he labeled his manuscript a YA aimed at the middle grade market. Still, there are a number of reasons why I was compelled to review Nick’s sample pages. Here are four, in a nutshell:
- In September 2008, Nick’s query stood out from the multitudes in my inbox for paranormal romance and suicidal teen YAs. Skyship fell into a genre that wasn’t yet popular but that wasn’t too far off from what was gaining traction — dystopian. Hunger Games had been released around the time I received Nick’s email, and I anticipated that light sci-fi in the vein of Skyship would take hold in the market, as well.
- The storyline captured my interest. Mysterious pearls from space are the world’s most important energy source, but nobody knows where they come from, and a clumsy teen can control them, except he doesn’t even realize it?! Wow!! Count me in.
- The conflict seemed exciting. The government is after Jesse because of his power to control pearls, so he’s on the run. He also has limited time to figure out how he’s connected to the pearls. Which, to me, meant two things: ticking clock and action! Which leads to reason four.
- I felt certain this story would appeal to teen boys. From where I sit, finding books that will appeal to boys is no easy feat. Writing them is even harder. As far as I was concerned, Nick James had it in the bag.
In 2009, we sold Skyship Academy to Brian Farrey at Flux. The book was released this fall (2011). Nick is presently writing a sequel.
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