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 74th installment in this series is with agent Sara Megibow (KT Literary) for Karen Fortunati's young adult novel, The Weight of Zero (Delacorte, Oct 2016).
Dear Ms. Megibow,
I am seeking representation for my YA novel, The Weight of Zero, complete at 86,000 words. Seventeen-year-old Catherine Pulaski knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles medications, preparing to take her own life before Zero can inflict its own living death on her again.
But Catherine’s life is changing with unexpected and meaningful relationships that lessen her sense of isolation. These new relationships along with the care of a gifted psychiatrist alter Catherine’s perception of her diagnosis as a death sentence. This is a story of loss and grief and how the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – lead to Catherine’s successful struggle to come to terms with her chronic mental illness.
This manuscript was awarded the SCBWI 2014 Work-in-Progress Grant in the Contemporary YA category and the Serendipity Literary Agency 2013 YA First Page/Novel Discovery Contest. My experiences with children as a juvenile prosecutor and court appointed child advocacy attorney definitely influenced the writing of this story. But it was my husband’s job that gave birth to it. He is a child psychiatrist and through him, I understand that treatment can and does work. This is what inspired me to write a story of hope.
Thank you for your time!
Commentary from Agent Sara Megibow
This query caught my attention right away because of the unique way Karen portrays conflict. Unlike other young adult novels where the antagonist might be a teacher, a parent, or another kid, in The Weight of Zero the bad guy is Zero—Catherine’s bipolar disorder. Karen has effectively set up a story in which everyone is fighting Zero—the story has both internal and external conflict (as all good stories should) but the unique hook is how she has balanced conflict between the characters and the disorder. I imagine a scale – on one side is Zero and on the other side is Catherine’s support network of family, friends, doctors, and therapists. This unique spin really works!
The second thing that impressed me in this query is right there in paragraph two. We know this is a contemporary young adult novel involving issues of mental health and mental health care. What makes this story stick out in a crowded field? The fact that Karen tells us this is a success story—the story of a team of caring people who combine to overcome Zero—is a very powerful and unique hook. As an agent, I immediately identified this portrayal of mental health care as something librarians and teachers have been requesting. And I was right!
There’s no doubt Karen’s writing is stellar—her use of voice, imagery, and mechanics right here in the query are superb. It’s the portrayal of conflict and the use of successful mental health care as a hook that combine to make this a knock-out query.
We submitted THE WEIGHT OF ZERO exclusively to Kate Sullivan at Delacorte/ Penguin Random House. Two weeks later we had an offer and are thrilled to be working with Kate on this debut! This is a very personal book for me—my father-in-law worked in child and adolescent psychiatry for 40+ years and has been a huge advocate for successful and effective mental health for kids. I’ve grown up hearing about the importance of these success stories and now I can’t wait to get this amazing, beautiful, inspiring, and intense story into the hands of readers. THE WEIGHT OF ZERO releases in October 2016.