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 41st installment in this series is with agent Michelle Humphrey (ICM; formerly of the Martha Kaplan Agency) and her author, Denise Jaden, for her young adult novel, Losing Faith, which came out this week (Sept. 7, 2010) from Simon Pulse.
Dear Ms. Humphrey,
I'm contacting you because I've read on various writing websites that you are expanding your young adult client list.
In LOSING FAITH, fifteen-year-old Brie Jenkins discovers her sister's death may not have been an accident. At the funeral, an uncorroborated story surfaces about Faith's whereabouts the night of her tragic fall from a cliff. When Brie encounters a strange, evasive boy at Faith's gravesite, she tries to confront him, but he disappears into a nearby forest.
Brie searches out and questions the mysterious boy, finding more information than she bargained for: Faith belonged to a secret ritualistic group, which regularly held meetings at the cliff where she died. Brie suspects foul play, but the only way to find out for sure is to risk her own life and join the secret cult.
LOSING FAITH (76k/YA) will appeal to readers of John Green's LOOKING FOR ALASKA and Laurie Halse Anderson's CATALYST. My published stories have won an editor's choice award in The Greensilk Journal and appeared in Mississippi Crow magazine. I'm a member of Romance Writers of America, where my manuscript is a finalist in the Florida chapter's Launching a Star Contest. For your convenience, I've pasted the first chapter at the bottom of this e-mail. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Commentary from Michelle:
Everything about Denise's query appealed to me. She gave me a quick sentence about why she chose to query me, and then went right into the gist of her novel. Her "gist" is very much a teaser, or like the back blurb of a book. She gives plot clues without revealing too much of the plot ("her sister's death may not have been an accident"). She keeps the plot points brief and keeps the teaser moving; most important is where she ends—on a note that makes the agent curious to know more: "the only way to find out for sure is to risk her own life..."
Denise also gives us vivid characters in this teaser: the smart, investigative protagonist, Brie; the mysterious boy at the gravesite; the sister, Faith, who's not what she seems. By creating hints of vivid characters and quick engaging plot points in a paragraph, Denise demonstrates her storytelling ability in the query—and I suspected it would carry through to her novel.
Denise includes some other elements that I like to see in queries: comparisons to other well-known books (2 or 3 is enough) and credentials that show her ability to write fiction. (A mistake some writers make in their queries is including creds that don't necessarily show a connection to fiction-writing.) I like, too, that she included her website—I often visit websites when considering queries. (You can buy Denise's book here!)
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