After receiving over 100 queries from writers around the world, I’ve picked a query that has all the elements I’m looking for in a pitch. It has a unique voice, a sense of humor, great use of tension, an exciting synopsis of the story, good personalization, a short yet interesting bio and just enough whimsy to entertain as well as present the project at hand.
I’d like to present to you my first ever query contest’s first ever Grand Prize winner, for a MG project, Jackee Alston!
Pitch Line: The convoluted story of two passengers on an Orphan Train, a broken dirigible, an alchemist, a lumberjack with an affinity for jellyfish, and the spies in bowler hats who chase them.
Love the twist on the old “… and the (blank) who (blank) them” line. An interesting mix of elements here. I would argue, however, that, given some of this information getting repeated in the query below, this line might not be necessary. (Strange factoid: this is not the only pitch I received for a book that dealt with the Orphan Train for the contest…)
Dear Ms. Kole,
The year 1911 was a golden year for aeronautics. But living in Maine, twelve-year-old orphans Courtesy and Patience would never have known had not a hot air balloon fallen on their heads. Saving the English pilot, his son, and a curious cargo from two dandy-suited goons named Sneed and Bowser course the adventure-loving orphans on a caper even they could never have imagined. Courtesy and Patience discover the cargo is really philosopher’s stones in need of one final ingredient to become gold. Thinking they can apply the ingredient, they recover the stones only to be kidnapped by Sneed and Bowser. Sneed will have the gold, even if he has to kill the children and burn down half the city of Bangor in the process.
A strange way to begin the query — it’s not every day I see the word “aeronautics” used to pitch a children’s book — but opens up some great humor for the second line. From there, we get a sense of what the two orphans want, what their obstacles are and what the stakes are. The summary leaves the reader in a state of high suspense! Not to mention, the quality of the writing here is very high. If she can pull of this kind of flow and language in the query (very hard to write eloquently) that bodes very well for the manuscript itself.
My middle-grade novel, The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience, is a 36,500-word implausible historical fiction set in an era when “Orphan Trains,” speculative aeronautics, logging, Wild West Shows, England ’s Royal Balloon School, alchemy, and shady British secret agents culminate into one tall-tale adventure.
Even more great personality and elements colliding here. This summary gives me all the information I need to know about the project and pretty much dares me to find out how all of these tall-tale tidbits combine into a story.
An adventurer myself, I live in Flagstaff, Arizona where the pines and high elevation give me ample inspiration and lack of oxygen for day-dreaming up stories for children and young adults. I hold a B.S. and M.S. from Brigham Young University where I also taught for several years until I resigned to write and become a mother. My five other works to date are scientific, technical papers published in peer-reviewed journals.
Everyone has to write a bio when pitching. This one is actually funny, with the bit about lack of oxygen. The writer’s voice and personality really shines through, which is TOUGH to do in a query.
I would be happy to send you the completed manuscript upon your request. Or you can make a selection from my horde of Dansko shoes and Green Day CDs. Take your pick. I thank you for your time reviewing this submission.
When I first got to this part in the query, I have to say, I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Jackee hadn’t somehow snuck into my closet and found my Green Day CDs and my Dansko clogs. While this might be too much personalization for some tastes, I was so taken by the voice, humor and suspense elsewhere in the query that this last joke played well for me. For those of you who have NO idea what she’s talking about, her VERY personalized nod here came from reading the blog. At one point, I mentioned that I worked at a restaurant and wore Dansko shoes, and in another post, I rambled on and on and on about Green Day. You might be surprised to learn that my love for Green Day (more ferocious in my formative years than now, but it still beats strong in my heart) has shown up in several query letters that I’ve gotten. I predict that now it’ll show up in even more!
So there you have it. Thus concludes my query contest. I had so much fun and got so many great pitches that I will definitely be repeating this for my readers. Stay tuned for that in a few months.
I’ve got some query-specific posts planned out in the wake of the contest, but I can’t wait to delve into more writing posts and, in December, revision posts. Because the query is just one tiny piece of the puzzle. And as Jackee demonstrates here, there are many, many other elements to the beast that is a fiction project. One she achieves especially well is the ever-enigmatic voice that really is the “x-factor” in all the writing that I see.
Now that you’ve (I hope) had some of your query curiosity sated, dear readers, I’d love to move on and talk more about other agenting topics and, of course, writing!