Successful Queries: Agent Julia Kenny and "Sure Signs of Crazy"

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 64th installment in this series is with agent Julia Kenny (Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary) for Karen Harrington’s debut middle-grade novel, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY (August 2013, Little Brown Books for Young Readers) which received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal. GIVEAWAY: Karen 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: Rosi won.)
Author:
Publish date:

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 64th installment in this series is with agent Julia Kenny (Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary) for Karen Harrington’s debut middle-grade novel, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY (August 2013, Little Brown Books for Young Readers) which received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal. Learn more at karenharringtonbooks.com or through Karen’s Twitter.

GIVEAWAY: Karen 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: Rosi won.)

Screen shot 2013-09-13 at 12.50.27 AM

Dear Ms. Thoma:

I'm seeking representation for SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, the follow-up to my first published novel Janeology, which received excellent reviews from such publications as Booklist who called it, "fascinating." I think this story might appeal to you because it explores themes about the lifelong repercussions of parents' actions like Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter - only this story asks what would happen if you lost your mother and had to grow up without her?

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY opens on the day Sarah Nelson receives a marriage proposal. At first, she sparks with happiness. But when the proposal not only begs her to be his wife, but also "the mother of his children," Sarah's spirit quickly plummets. As the child of an institutionalized, mentally ill mother, Sarah's always had an uneasy relationship with the concept of motherhood.

While weighing her answer to his proposal, she recalls the house where she turned 12, the house where she found herself waiting: waiting to be kissed by a boy, waiting to look grown up, waiting for her father to stop drinking away his sorrow, and perhaps most fearfully, waiting to go crazy like her mother.

Complete at 69,000 words, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY tells the story of one pivotal summer during Sarah's life as she struggles to come-of-age in the shadow of her mother's illness and her father's secrecy. This novel will appeal to readers of strong upmarket women's fiction like Elizabeth Flock's Me and Emma, Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster and Jayne Pupek's Tomato Girl.

Per your submission preferences, please find the first pages attached.

Sincerely,

Karen Harrington

COMMENTARY FROM AGENT JULIA KENNY OF DUNOW, CARLSON AND LERNER LITERARY

Karen came to me through Geri Thoma, with whom I worked for many years at Markson Thoma. Karen originally queried Geri with her project, which was pitched as an adult novel. Geri took a look and thought that there was something really special there, but she felt quite sure the voice was for a younger audience, so she passed it along to me knowing I’m very keen on middle grade and young adult.

Karen’s query letter was concise, included some strong comp titles, and her “elevator pitch” was spot on: Complete at 69,000 words, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY tells the story of one pivotal summer during Sarah's life as she struggles to come-of-age in the shadow of her mother's illness and her father's secrecy. I knew I had to take a look.

Incidentally, though the query pitched the novel as women's fiction, it didn't have that "looking back on my childhood" point of view and mature voice throughout that you find in adult fiction. Strong middle-grade voices, by comparison, are generally told in the present, as was the bulk of Karen's book. Sarah is so delightful and insightful in the way that children often are, and my gut told me that – while adults will also fall in love with her – we had to ensure that a younger audience got to meet her, too.

GIVEAWAY: Karen 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: Rosi won.)

Ready to send out your query? Get a critique!

Image placeholder title

Are you done writing and revising your manuscript or nonfiction book proposal? Then you’re ready to write a query letter. In order to ensure you make the best impression on literary agents and acquisitions editors, we recommend getting a 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique.

Whether you are an experienced writer looking to improve the elements within your query letter or a new writer looking for pointers on how to write a query letter, our 2nd Draft Query Letter Critique Service provides the advice and feedback you need to improve your query.

Click to continue.

Amir

The “Secret Sauce” Necessary to Succeed at a 30-Day Writing Challenge

In this article, author and writing coach Nina Amir lays out her top tips to master your mindset and complete a 30-day writing challenge.

Kane2

Crashing Into New Worlds: Writing About the Unfamiliar

Award-winning crime author Stephanie Kane explains how she builds characters unlike herself and navigates their worlds to create vivid and realistic stories.

plot_twist_story_prompts_without_a_trace_robert_lee_brewer

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.

WDVintage_10_29

Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.

new_agent_alert_barb_roose_books_such_literary_services_adult_christian_fiction_and_nonfiction

New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.

Grinnell_10:28

Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.

Richard_Shadowlands

Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.