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 59th installment in this series is with agent Alyssa Reuben (Paradigm Literary) for Moses Gates's travel memoir, Hidden Cities: Travels to the Secret Corners of the World's Great Metropolises: a Memoir of Urban Exploration (Tarcher, March 2013). Publishers Weekly said, "Urban exploration with Gates makes for wildly entertaining reading. A solidly entertaining ride for those seeking a gritty travel experience."
To: Alyssa Reuben
Subject: Query—Hidden Cities: Inside the Secret World of Urban Explorers
Two adventures from New York City embark on a worldwide journey through the urban underbelly, taking them from the catacombs of Paris to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Moses Gates, a bookish and intensely curious urban planner, meets Steve Duncan, a frenetic adventurer obsessed with the underground of New York City. Soon the two become immersed in the worldwide subculture of Urban Exploring. This subculture rejects prepackaged “tourist adventures” in favor of exploring the urban environment on their own terms—terms which are often dangerous, and always completely illegal.
Venturing through three continents, Gates and Duncan find a world of people who create secret art galleries in subway tunnels, break into national monuments for fun, and travel the globe sleeping in centuries-old catacombs and abandoned Soviet relics rather than hotels or bed and breakfasts. They push each other further and further—visiting the hidden side of a dozen countries, discovering ancient underground Roman ruins, partying with mole people, sneaking into Stonehenge—until finding themselves under arrest on top of the Notre Dame. It’s an amazing journey of discovering what can still be seen and done in today’s world of terrorism scares and “no trespassing” signs, as well as a story of an enduring friendship forged in the strangest of places.
The author, Moses Gates, is an urban planner and licensed New York City tour guide. His explorations of New York have been featured on the History Channel, New York Times, Guardian UK, and Maxim en Espanol. His website is www.allcitynewyork.com
The other main character, Steve Duncan, is a photographer and historian. His adventures have been featured on the Discovery Channel show “Urban Explorers,” as well as on National Public Radio, CNN, the Columbia University Journal, and other print and television media. He is the star of the short documentary “Undercity” with over half a million views on Vimeo. His website is www.undercity.org
Hidden Cities: Inside the Secret World of Urban Explorers is a 50,000-word true adventure and travel story, as well as a subculture expose. Despite documentaries, reality TV shows, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles about Urban Exploration, this would be the first true adventure or subculture expose published about the subject. There is also the possibility of producing the book with high-quality photographs of all the locations visited.
I've written an extensive outline, and approximately 20,000 words. As follows are the first five pages (1,366 words). If you're interested, I can follow up with other sample chapters and a table of contents.
Thanks for your consideration,
Commentary From Agent Alyssa Reuben
This query had a lot of qualities I want in a book: action, adventure, friendship, personal growth, and travel. It was polished, concise, and conveyed a personal story with an intriguing narrative arc that was set against the fascinating world of urban exploration. To me, it read like a fantastic back cover copy.
His use of the third person to pitch a memoir and travelogue might have been off-putting to other agents (most of these types of queries are done from the author’s perspective), but I thought it was fine.
What’s more, I thought Moses’ professional credentials lent themselves to the book’s subject matter and would therefore give the book added depth and his perspective would be more adept. I also liked that he illustrated a real public interest in the story asserting his book would be the first of its kind to delve into this subculture in the way he was intending. Needless to say, I was immediately interested in reading more.