Successful Queries: Agent Katie Shea Boutillier and "The Art of Falling"

The best way to learn how to write a successful query is to read one. In this installment, agent Katie Shea Boutillier (Donald Maass Literary) shares feedback on a query by Kathryn Craft for her book The Art of Falling (Sourcebooks Landmark).
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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 69th installment in this series is with agent Katie Shea Boutillier (Donald Maass Literary) for Kathryn Craft's novel, The Art of Falling (2014, Sourcebooks Landmark). Kirkus said of the book, "Craft's debut novel lovingly traces the aesthetics of movement and gently explores the shattering pain of despair. A sensitive study of a woman choreographing her own recovery."

Kathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks Landmark: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy (Spring 2015). She works as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com and serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, hosts writing retreats for women, and speaks often about writing. Find her on Twitter.

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The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft

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Dear Katie Shea:

She had the talent, she had the drive, and she had the opportunity. Only one thing stood between Penelope Sparrow and the dance career of her dreams: her imperfect body. When she wakes up in a Philadelphia hospital after what should have been a deadly fourteen-story fall, Penelope pushes through the pain to move again. That's what dancers do. Harder to surmount is the dark possibility of what happened out on that ledge, hinted at by each muscle memory she triggers. She can no longer dance around her body issues: the same "sturdy thighs" and "mambo hips" that derailed her have now saved her life, and whether she can use them to create a more meaningful career becomes a fight to save her soul.

THE ART OF FALLING draws on aspects of my past: as both dancer and dance critic, as the wife of a suicide victim, and as a modern woman bombarded by advice about how to achieve the perfect body. Dance is a hot pop culture phenomenon in top-rated television (Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance), award-winning film (Black Swan), and bestselling nonfiction (Apollo's Angels by Jennifer Homans). Body image issues continue to make headlines and inform advertising choices (Dove's “Campaign for Beauty”). The story will offer hope to readers with displaced careers who are now trying to reconnect with their passions. In style, it will resonate with the readers of Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, and Elizabeth Berg.

I've had short pieces published, both fiction and creative nonfiction, and I'm a contributing editor at The Blood-Red Pencil blog. The Sewanee Writers' Conference accepted my work; I studied there with Pulitzer Prize nominee Diane Johnson and National Book Award winner Alice McDermott. I serve on the boards of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and speak often on a variety of writing topics.

I'm seeking an agent who shares my enthusiasm for upmarket fiction driven by women's issues. Emily Rapoport, Associate Editor at Berkley Publishing Group, is currently reviewing the full manuscript, which is complete at 99,700 words and ready to send. Congratulations on your new position at the Maass agency. My newly revised manuscript benefited from my three-day interaction with Don and his wife Lisa at The Write Stuff conference last March. Thanks so much, in advance, for your consideration. The synopsis and first five pages follow my signature block.

Sincerely,

Kathryn Craft
Katie’s breakdown:

Paragraph 1: This is an awesome first sentence. It connects me to the main character immediately. By the second sentence I'm hooked. A conflict has been presented. Then she gives me the setting and a tragic event that happened to the main character. Something quite unusual! Kathryn does such a lovely job incorporating Penny's struggle for movement to her personal struggle to connect with her passion and to herself. She leaves this paragraph with me wondering what will happen to Penelope Sparrow?

Paragraph 2: Kathryn makes a personal connection to her novel with her background and her life experiences. I always love seeing this! Kathryn connects her novel with the universe by using her dance and body image hook. She then narrows her writing style as similar to best-selling authors.

Paragraph 3: Kathryn has a strong platform, has worked with highly respected published authors, and has a great following among other writers.

Paragraph 4: Mentioning that an editor is already looking at it is always a plus to agents. We love to know that others in our industry are interested in reading this novel. Then congratulations—how sweet! This is a smart move by Kathryn. It shows that she has researched me and knows my most recent career move. Kathryn makes another smart connection to my boss, Donald Maass, and shows that she used his teachings of how to write a novel to get where she is today.

*****

Ready to send out your query? Get a critique!

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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.

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