This article is part of a series called Successful Queries. It features actual query letter examples to literary agents that were successful for authors. In addition to the successful query letter, you’ll also see the thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked. Today’s features Stefanie Gaither's letter to her agent Sara Megibow (Nelson Literary) about her novel Falls the Shadow. Kristi Helvig, author of Burn Out, said of the book: "[It's] a smart, futuristic thriller that grabs you and doesn't let go until the very last page. This is a fantastic debut.”
Dear Ms. Megibow,
I’m currently seeking representation for my YA novel, FALLS THE SHADOW. Given your interest in science fiction, I thought it might be a good fit for your list.
When Cate Benson was twelve, her sister died. Two hours after the funeral, they picked up Violet’s replacement, and the family made it home in time for dinner and a game of cards.
It's the year 2055, and Cate's parents are among the wealthy elite who can afford to give their children a sort of immortality—by cloning them at birth. So this new Violet has the same smile. The same laugh. That same perfect face. Thanks to advancements in mind-uploading technology, she even has all the same memories as the girl she replaced.
She also might have murdered the most popular girl in school.
Or at least, that’s what the paparazzi and the crazy anti-cloning protestors want everyone to think: that clones are violent, unpredictable monsters. Cate is used to hearing all that, though. She’s used to standing up for her sister too, and she’s determined to do it now—even if proving Violet’s innocence means taking on those protestors and anyone else attacking her family. But when her own life is threatened—not by protestors, but by the very scientists who created her sister’s clone—Cate starts questioning everything she thought she knew about the cloning movement. About herself. About her sister.
And the answers she finds reveal a more sinister purpose for her sister’s copy—and her own replacement—than she ever could have imagined.
FALLS THE SHADOW is complete at 80,000 words and is the first in a planned series. The manuscript is available, in part or full, upon request. Thanks for your time and consideration!
Commentary by Agent Sara Megibow
I’ve been reading slush pile queries for 8 years and can honestly say this is one of the strongest queries I’ve ever read. I get an immediate sense of the world, the stakes, the characters, and the conflict. I remember when this came in—the writing was so good I asked for the full that very same day. Strong writing really does catch my attention.
One of the biggest mistakes I see in queries is what I call data-dump. This is when a query is too wordy or too long and is trying too hard to describe the world and/or fantasy elements. Stefanie nails her world-building in this query and I wasn’t surprised, then, to see that she nails the world-building in her book, too. This first line is so haunting and mysterious and evocative, “…and the family made it home in time for dinner…” What?! How awesome is that? Also, I love that I can see Cate’s conflict described clearly in one paragraph—her sister is a clone framed for murder. Obviously, Cate loves her sister, but can she trust her? That’s an exciting hook with a ton of tension and conflict. Well done, Stefanie!
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