Successful Queries: Agent Adriann Ranta and “Not a Drop to Drink”

This series is called “Successful Queries” and I’m posting actual query letter examples that succeeded in getting writers signed with agents. In addition to posting these query letter samples, we will also get to hear thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked.

The 65th installment in this series is with agent Adriann Ranta (formerly of Wolf Literary; now with Foundry Literary + Media) for Mindy McGinnis’s young adult novel, NOT A DROP TO DRINK (Sept. 2013, Katharine Tegen Books), a post-apocalyptic survival tale set in a world where freshwater is almost non-existent. Mindy McGinnis is a YA author and librarian. She blogs at Writer, Writer Pants on Fire and contributes to the group blogs Book Pregnant, Friday the Thirteeners, From the Write Angle, The Class of 2k13, The Lucky 13s & The League of Extraordinary Writers. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr & Facebook.

GIVEAWAY: Mindy is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (UPDATE: cotidiano won.)


not-a-drop-to-drink-cover      mandy-mcginnis-author-writer

Dear Ms. Ranta:

Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond. Seven years later, violence is her native tongue in a time when an ounce of fresh water is worth more than gold and firewood equals life during bitter rural winters. Death wanders the countryside in many forms: thirst, cholera, coyotes, and the guns of strangers.
Mother and Lynn survive in a lawless land, where their once comfortable home serves as stronghold and lookout. Their basement is a lonely fortress; Father disappeared fighting the Canadians for possession of Lake Erie, the last clean body of water in an overpopulated land. The roof offers a sniper’s view of their precious water source – the pond.  Ever vigilant, they defend against those who stream from the sprawling cities once they can no longer pay the steep prices for water. Mother’s strenuous code of self-sufficiency and survival leaves no room for trust or friendships; those wishing for water from the pond are delivered from their thirst not by a drink, but a bullet. Even their closest neighbor is a stranger who Lynn has only seen through her crosshairs.
Smoke rises from the east, where a starving group of city refugees are encamped by the stream. A matching spire of smoke can be seen in the south, where a band of outlaws are building a dam to manipulate what little water is left.
When Mother dies in a horrific accident, Lynn faces a choice – defend her pond alone or band together with her crippled neighbor, a pregnant woman, a filthy orphan, and Finn – the teenage boy who awakens feelings she can’t figure out.
NOT A DROP TO DRINK (69,000 words) is a post-apoc survival  YA. I have been a YA librarian in the public school system for seven years, allowing me to spend forty hours a week with my target audience. The first three chapters are in the body of this email, per your submission guidelines.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Agent Adriann Ranta’s comments:

I still think this is a really solid query—I’d request it all over again! I love the punchy first line, the spare prose, and gradual introduction to all the book’s main players. I remember loving the specificity in this query—I know who main character is, where she is, what world she lives in, what’s at stake—without getting so microscopic that the query feels bloated and slow.

The letter conveys all the right information, but also has a flair for language that promises good writing in the sample to come. I also appreciated the mention of her job working with her target audience, which showed some industry savvy. (Find NOT A DROP TO DRINK online to buy.)

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19 thoughts on “Successful Queries: Agent Adriann Ranta and “Not a Drop to Drink”

  1. Avatarsdebear1

    I would read this book even if I hated the concept because the writing is rich and fluent, and incredibly descriptive and it completely drew me in. There is so much conflicting information about query writing, it’s fantastic to see real examples of what actually works to get an agent’s attention, and subsequent signing.

  2. AvatarKenneth Peters

    Like the agent states, the letter includes all the critical info required in the tightest space. The quality of the writing in the QL often provides insight into the MS. Nicely done.

  3. AvatarDanielJayBerg

    This letter does a nice job focusing on the story above all else.

    I’m curious, though: Given the current trend of post-apocalyptic YA books out there, is it “good” or “bad” to allude to this popular fad in the query letter?

  4. AvatarSciFiWri

    I love the first paragraph. That’s the kind of writing I like to try and be able to do. If that’s how well she can write a letter, I look forward to reading the book!

  5. Avatarkurtpatt

    Thanks for sharing– I love to see examples of novel query letters since I still struggle trying to make mine work. I like how the info about the novel is all at the end– that’s different from what I’ve done and might be worth trying,

  6. AvatarKellylynncakes

    I would have to agree it is very helpful to see a query that was successful at what it was created to do. This is a very creative way of stating the fact with a short run down of what the novel is about. This author clearly knows how to write a query and makes it look easy. I’ve spent weeks, even months trying to hash out a nice clear and well informed piece that will get and keep the agent or publishers attention. Thanks for sharing it!

  7. Avatarlilacemellin

    What a great example. It’s so helpful to see queries for books I don’t already know–easier to see how the writer is following all those pointers we get about queries. I like how deftly the age of the MC is given, and how every part works hard to do more than one thing–tone and setting, images and conflict. I am eager to read this and see what the tone/outlook is by the end. The very real issue of how precious our resources are (water even more than oil) and the choice we have to work together or against each other are incredibly important themes. I’m glad she’s taking them on.


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