It’s been a while since I shared a client query, but if you’re looking for a good example, I have one for you. This one was written by my fabulous client, Lori M Lee.
A few weeks ago, Lisa Desrochers sent you some pages from my YA cyberpunk fantasy HARBINGER, and I was thrilled to hear you were interested in taking a look. I’m honored to have Lisa’s referral, and I hope you’ll enjoy the story. I wasn’t sure how many of my pages Lisa sent you or what I should send now, so I figured I would just submit what’s listed in your submission guidelines.
People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta. Like the rest of the citizens, seventeen-year-old Kai pretends not to notice. With her own survival to worry about, she doesn’t have much concern to spare. But when her brother vanishes, Kai will do whatever it takes to find him, including using the ability she promised her brother to keep secret—Kai can see and manipulate the threads of time.
With the help of an annoying and distracting friend—distracting because he’s beautiful, and annoying because he knows it—Kai discovers a secret war between Ninurta’s governor and a rebel named the Black Rider. The Rider has been kidnapping Ninurtans and transforming them into cybernetically enhanced soldiers called Golems.
Kai sets out to find the Rider and discovers a shocking secret: the Rider is actually the Harbinger of Famine. And Kai? Not as human as she thought. Now, Kai will have to face down the Harbinger and uncover the link between herself and the secret war before her brother gets sent for dehumanization.
Equal parts sci fi and fantasy, HARBINGER is complete at 75,000 words. An excerpt from HARBINGER also won first place in the San Francisco RWA Heart-to-Heart contest in the YA category, and Adam Wilson at Harlequin Teen expressed interest in seeing the full manuscript. He informed me that while he recently moved to Simon&Schuster, he would still like to see the manuscript and wants to forward it to Harlequin Teen.
I included the first chapter below. Thank you so much for your interest, and I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you.
This is interesting because there’s a referral in the first line. It’s important that if you use a referral that it’s a real referral though. Every once in a while I get a query with a referral from one of my clients—and the client has no idea who the author is. So don’t lie—you might get caught.
Lori’s referral was in fact true and I was very happy to receive her query.
What I love about this query is that it’s a really great example for a fantasy novel—or any novel with a lot of worldbuilding. Rather than start with her main character, Lori starts with a problem in a way that grounds me in the world: People are disappearing in the city of Ninurta.
This query is predominantly about Kai. I get a strong sense of her personality and who she is in this world (and what she can do!) in a very quick span. Obviously this is a fantasy world, but it’s Kai and her missing brother that I’m most interested in.
Now the title of this novel changed and in revisions it became much more of a straight fantasy, but it’s now called Gates of Thread and Stone and will be released in August!
Christian Trimmer at Simon & Schuster has bought world English rights to After Life, a contemporary novel by Stacey Kade, in a preempt. It’s the story of the teenage son of a mega-church pastor who survives a car accident that kills his twin, and the mysterious girl who turns out to be only one of his brother’s secrets. Publication is scheduled for spring 2016; Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media was the agent.
I signed Chelsea several books ago for her YA novels, but every book she writes I like even more than the last one. This new adult book is a stand alone but set in the same world as Best Kind of Broken and the upcoming Right Kind of Wrong.
Chelsea does characters and relationships that make me laugh and tear up and smile, all in the same book. I’m so honored to be a part of this whole series.
The Ghost and the Goth author Stacey Kade’s debut 738 DAYS, about an abducted teen who, at nineteen, two years after her return home, is still suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia when a publicity stunt throws her together with the former TV heartthrob whose poster was her only friend in captivity, raising the possibility that they might be the only ones who can save each other, to Whitney Ross at Tor, in a good deal, at auction, in a two-book deal, by Suzie Townsendat New Leaf Literary & Media (NA).
Recently I got a question on tumblr about submissions and what the process is like. It’s a rather lengthy answer so I figured I’d talk about it here.
Once a writer signs with an agent—and after they go through any revisions, be it a polish or a more lengthy edit—the next step is going on submission.
In short, this means their agent will submit the manuscript (fiction) or proposal (non-fiction) to editors.
What this means…
I can only speak for myself, but the process actually starts when I first sign a new client. During my first read, before I’ve even decided whether I should represent a project, I’ll be thinking about submission. Obviously, if I’m thinking ahead, I’m thinking how much I love the story, but I’m also thinking about which editors will love the manuscript as well.
After I sign an author, I make up a spreadsheet with the Publisher, Imprint, and Editor.
(This sheet is blank because it’s fake, and I’m using these editors because I work with them on recently released books—Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier).
I think about what imprints are the right fit for the book and what editors at those imprints would fall in love the manuscript like I have. (One of the things I have to keep in mind is the different rules of submitting to each house—like you can’t submit to two editors at the same imprint and some house you can submit to multiple imprints and some you can’t.)
Then when the manuscript is all ready and polished, I pitch the manuscript to each of the editors on the list. Pitching could mean calling or talking to them in person if we have drinks or lunch or if I know them really well and we’ve worked together before, I might send an email.
After I pitch the project, ideally an editor will be as excited as I am and ask to see it. In that case I’d send them the manuscript with a written pitch (sort of like a query). If the editor isn’t interested (maybe they just signed something similar), I would call and pitch to someone else instead.
Once the manuscript is with everyone on my list, it’s officially on submission.
But that isn’t the end of the process.
I’d love to say that I always hear back within a few weeks but that isn’t true. Just like writers wait for agents to respond at the querying stage, we agents have to wait for editors to read and respond. Sometimes it happens quickly (there are times when I’ve gotten responses in a week or less!) but other times it takes weeks even months.
This is where following up comes in.
I follow up with editors (how soon after submission is based on the project or if there’s any news and also based on what’s happening in life or in publishing). This reminds them how much I love the project and makes sure the ms doesn’t slip through the cracks.
When responses come in, I usually ask the author how they want me to handle it. Do they want to see the responses or do they want me to just tell them about it or do they only want to hear from me when I have good news, etc.
Once the book is on submission, there are a variety of different possible outcomes:
An Auction: This is where multiple editors are making offers.
(It’s not like an auction at an auction house or anything. It’s largely done over email). I’ll set a date and a time, and ask every editors to get me their first bid—or offer—by then. Once all the bids are in, I’ll go back to all the under bidders and ask for more and that will keep going until we have the best bid from each house. I’ve had auctions with two houses that last one round and I had an auction once that was seven houses and a different auction that lasted a week long.
Auctions can be stressful for everyone involved, but they also leave room for a lot of choice on the author’s part. It’s about more than just advance. Royalties, pub schedule, rights granted, the editor’s vision for the book, etc—all of these are factors that I’ll discuss with an author before the author makes his/her decision about what offer to accept. (I’ll give my opinion/advise, but it’s always the author’s decision).
A Pre-Empt: This is where an editor makes a “offer you can’t refuse.”
Sometimes the editor might be the only editor to see the project. Other times they’re just so excited about it that they come in with an offer before anyone else. Pre-empt offers are often higher or better than a first bid for an auction, but that doesn’t mean that all pre-empts are huge. A quiet literary middle grade for instance isn’t going to get the same advance as a huge commercial YA novel. But the reasons to accept a pre-empt are usually that it’s the best offer including advance and terms and the editor’s and publisher’s enthusiasm.
This is the most common positive outcome—it only takes one!
In all three of these cases, as an agent, I’m doing a lot of negotiation. And again, the advance is one of those negotiating points but royalties, publication schedule, subrights splits, rights granted, etc are things that I’m asking about. Sometimes I’m even asking for specific language to be in the contract a later date.
Hopefully this isn’t the outcome, but it does happen—more than you’d think. We all announce the manuscripts that do sell, but we don’t announce the ones that don’t. If there isn’t an offer, I usually work with the author to revise and do another round of submission or I work with the author on their next project.
I read over a hundred books during the course of 2013—in addition to my own clients’ books of course. Some of them are books that came out this year and others came out a while ago.
Here are my top ten favorite non New Leaf books. Each of these books are ones that I could read fast enough. A few of them had me up all night. All of them were on my mind long after I stopped reading. If any of them are books you haven’t read, you should.
What are your favorite reads from this past year? I’d love to have more recommendations for next year!
In March, a few years ago, I got a fabulous query by Rebecca Behrens for her debut novel. I knew within just the first few lines that I had to read this book.
Here’s the query:
Dear Ms. Townsend,
fump • \fəmp\ v. 1 slang a dump or desert one’s (platonic) friend ‘Keisha made the swim team so now she is totally going to fump Annie’ b get rid of unceremoniously ‘poor thing got fumped by her best friend’ c friend-dumped.
Think there’s nothing worse than getting dumped? Try getting fumped—at least when it’s some guy who’s breaking your heart, you can rely on your best friend for a shoulder to cry on and emergency fro-yo trips. When it’s said friend who’s doing the deserting, who can you turn to for support? Your pet hamster? Your parentals? In my young-adult novel Fumped (71,924 words), whip-smart sophomore Jocelyn Heller holds nothing back as she retells the story of how she got fumped by her best friend.
Jocelyn and Alexis have been best friends their whole lives, although they’ve grown into two very different peas sharing a pod. By the start of sophomore year, however, Alexis has ditched Jocelyn to hang out with the popular, vapid Lacey and her soccer-playing boyfriend. Jocelyn is desperate to prove to her best friend that she can fit in with the new crowd, despite the fact that she cares more for books than for booze and has never had a boyfriend. Yet all of Jocelyn’s efforts to win back Alexis’s favor only lead to more cruel exclusions. Gradually, Jocelyn realizes that she’s more suited to new friends from her Art Metal class and the drama club (including the crush-worthy Peter) and that perhaps the BFF she’s fighting for isn’t really deserving of her loyalty and friendship. Equal parts introspective and angst-y, witty and heartbreaking, Jocelyn shows how getting fumped was both the worst thing that could happen to her and possibly the best.
Fumped is my debut YA novel, and yes—I once had firsthand experience with the subject matter. I also have a BA from Northwestern University and an MA in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center (CUNY). I’m currently a textbook editor at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill in New York City, where I have focused on literature products for grades K-12. I am a freelance writer and have been published in American Cheerleader magazine, which has a readership of 1.2 million and is targeted toward the teen athlete, and its business publication, Cheer Biz News. I’m also an active member of the Association of American Publishers’ Young to Publishing networking group, through which I have formed relationships with editors at Knopf-Doubleday, Dial Books for Young Readers, and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
I look forward to sharing Jocelyn’s story with you, and I know you’ll love her as much as I do. Hers is a fresh and quirky voice, and she tells her story with humor and raw emotion. Getting fumped might have sucked really hard, but you’ll see that it gave Jocelyn the catalyst she needed to start being herself. The first five pages of Fumped follow this query and the full manuscript is available upon request. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Now, here’s what I love about it.
Fumped. It’s a fabulous concept and term and I loved how Rebecca defined it before the query. It drew me in immediately, let me know what the story was going to be about—but it did so in a creative way.
I also love the beginning of the query—that first paragraph has such a fabulous voice and is a (rare) example of rhetorical questions that work really well. (Trust me, I normally hate them). Right then and there it won me over and I requested it.
Once I’d requested the novel, I read and loved it and offered Rebecca representation. Unfortunately at the time, Fumped was a little too sweet for contemporary YA (which was a pretty tough market), but Rebecca when on to write When Audrey Met Alice which we sold to Sourcebooks and comes out in February.
It’s a different story but it has the same fabulous writing and humor that I loved about Fumped.
I’ve said it before, but I owe a lot to Sarah Goldberg. The same summer that she found the fabulously talented Mindee Arnett and Sara Polsky in my slush pile, she also found Makiia Lucier.
Now, historical YA is actually pretty tough. It’s tough to get the teenage sensibility just right while also staying true to the historical time period. As a result, I was wary of historical YA. I wasn’t opposed to it, but it wasn’t something I was looking for either. For me to take on a historical project it would have to be something with amazing characters and really great plot and outstanding writing.
Then I got this query and Sarah said to me, “How are you feeling about YA historical…?” I took a look and told her I was feeling good about this one.
Here’s the query:
Dear Ms. Townsend:
In the fall of 1918, Cleo Berry is completing her studies at St. Helen’s Hall, one of the oldest boarding schools in Portland, Oregon. When soldiers arrive at nearby Camp Lewis, they transport the Spanish Influenza, a mysterious strain of flu that strikes down young men and women with swift, shocking brutality.
Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. Cleo disobeys her headmistress’s quarantine order, choosing to wait out the epidemic, and her family’s impending return, in the relative safety of their empty home. But it isn’t long before the Red Cross launches a plea for volunteers. For deeply personal reasons, Cleo finds she cannot ignore the call for help.
Her duties are clear-to search the neighborhoods and report cases of influenza to the grand auditorium, which has been transformed into an emergency hospital. There Cleo meets Lieutenant Edmund Parrish, a medical student who bears the permanent scars of war. In the coming weeks, the death toll mounts, and reality sets in. There is little help forthcoming from an overworked medical staff and a strained ambulance service. If Cleo is to help save lives, she must find the courage to navigate alone in a city turned ominous with fear.
A BEAUTIFUL AND DEATH STRUCK YEAR is a young adult historical novel, complete at 56,000 words.
My articles have appeared in the Portland Oregonian, Bookmarks Magazine, and Library Journal. I have a BA in journalism from the University of Oregon and an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I studied literature for children. Additionally, I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
I have attached my complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.
Here’s what I loved about it:
First Spanish Influenza! I love that this is a time period I haven’t seen too many times before, but at the same time there’s a high stakes backdrop. (And can I say that when I read this for the first time, I was constantly freaking out when someone sneezed next to me on the subway.
I also was really struck by the writing and pacing in this query. Makiia introduces the stakes (the flu that kills!) and then she sets up Cleo’s personal experience with it in a way that gradually built the sense of urgency. I felt so grabbed by the “personal reasons” (why would she put herself in danger!?) and this Lieutenant with scars of war (I admit I sort of love a guy with emotion baggage—at least in books).
I read the manuscript and loved it. There were parts that made me weep and of course, Edmund is rather swoony, and Cleo…I just loved her.
I wasn’t the only one. I sold this to Harcourt Childrens. They dropped the “Beautiful” from the title and the book comes out in March, and it’s one of the ABA picks for New Voices. Here’s where you can add it to goodreads.