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.
Today features 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.
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 the 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.