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 kid's 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.
Professor Barnabas Quill, Historian
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?
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.