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 70th installment in this series is with agent Kate Testerman (KT Literary) for Rebecca Petruck's middle-grade novel, Steering Toward Normal (Abrams/Amulet, May 13, 2014). The book was chosen as an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection as well as a Spring 2014 Kids' Indie Next List selection. It was among Vanity Fair's Hollywood's "10 Books We'd Like to See Made Into Films."
I’ve been “attending” WriteOnCon the last few days and appreciated your frank and funny advice about query letters. I hope you will be interested in my middle-grade novel, Steering Toward Normal.
Steering Toward Normal is a 56,000-word coming-of-age story set in the world of 4-H steer competitions. (I’m from Minnesota–we know cows.) It begins when eighth-graders Diggy Lawson and Wayne Schley discover they have the same father. Steering Toward Normal is the tale of how the boys go from being related to being brothers.
Diggy’s life may not be typical, but he’s content. He hangs out with Pop and the county’s farmers, raises steers to compete, and daydreams about July Johnston, high school senior and girl of his dreams. Hardly anyone teases him anymore about how his mom abandoned him on Pop’s doorstep and skipped town on a tractor.
Then Wayne gets dumped at Pop’s, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half brother messing things up. Wayne rattles Diggy’s easy relationship with Pop, threatens his chances at the state fair, and horns in on his girl. Diggy believes family is everything, but he’s pretty sure Wayne doesn’t count.
The first ten pages of Steering Toward Normal won first place in the SCBWI Carolinas Writing Contest, judged by Sarah Shumway, Senior Editor at Katherine Tegan Books.
I am a graduate of the Creative Writing MFA program at UNC Wilmington, editor of the SCBWI Carolinas quarterly newsletter, and member of the NC Writer’s Network. My work has appeared in Our State magazine.
My professional background is in PR and marketing, having promoted new fiction and nonfiction authors with [redacted] and marketed magazines online for [redacted]. Additionally, I was president of my 4-H chapter in fifth grade. This is a multiple submission.
I look forward to hearing from you about Steering Toward Normal.
Commentary from Kate Testerman
Rebecca got off to a great start by referencing a conference where I'd spoken, and her query showed she'd taken my advice to heart. The first paragraph of the book's description does a great job of setting the story in a specific place (with a fun parenthetical that shows the author's sense of humor). The hook line of "Steering Toward Normal is the tale of how the boys go from being related to being brothers" is something we're still using to describe the story, many steps later on the publishing road.
Rebecca goes deeper in the next two paragraphs, showing me what Diggy's life had been, and how it changes when Wayne comes to live with him and Pop. The line "Diggy believes family is everything, but he’s pretty sure Wayne doesn’t count" is an almost perfect example of the voice that so hooked me on my first reading of the partial, through my reading of the full, and why I offered representation.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Rebecca had won a writing contest with this material, judged by an editor I knew and respected, and was a member of the SCBWI, as well as a past member of 4-H herself!
As with all great queries, though, this one also touched a personal note for me, as my husband was a 4-H member and farm boy in his youth, and reading about these two boys helped me better understand his childhood.