Friday, December 2, 2011


Thank you to today’s brave author for volunteering his/her query to be critiqued here on The Nightstand!

Before I start into this query letter, please know that I am a huge advocate of researching agents thoroughly before you query. Google an agent’s name. If they have a website, use their query submission guidelines. These supersede all other guidelines from any other source. If they have a blog, read it. If they have a Twitter, follow it. A Facebook page, like it. (No, you are not stalking, you are researching – there’s a difference!) See if your Google search links to any interviews they’ve done because these are helpful to learn what your agent likes and what they don’t like. Your goal is to write a letter that’s fine-tuned to one specific agent, not a mass mailing of agents. 

Okay, lecture over - let's get started. 

Have you ever met this agent? How did you find this agent? Why do you think this agent should be interested in your work? This is not mandatory, and it’s perfectly acceptable to start your letter with a description of your story but if you think you have a solid connection to the agent, feel free to use that as an introductory paragraph.

During the summer in Arizona, the only thing more oppressive than the heat is the silence in sixteen-year-old Jill Whitaker’s house since her mother left. If she’d asked, Jill would have chosen to stay with her dad without hesitation, but she didn’t ask. This is a beautifully constructed sentence that gives a lot of information very efficiently … it tells me the setting, that Jill’s mother has left and that Jill has had a better relationship with her father than her mother over the years. My only problem is it doesn’t hook me. There really hadn’t been room on the Post-It goodbye note Here’s the hook!! Having a mom who abandons their kid isn’t a new concept in YA Lit (I have a mom who left a goodbye note in my own book) but a note on a Post-It note? Now THAT conjures up a very vivid feeling. Find a way to work the Post-It note into the first sentence to catch an agent’s attention. she’d left on Jill’s pillow. Jill had always been closer to her dad, but it’s the hollowed out version of him that still has her sneaking  out onto her roof most nights even now that the fighting has stopped. Stretched out under the stars is the only place she can really breathe, until Daniel moves in next door. Good – here’s your second hook. Even better if you can tell us something positive about Daniel, because if Jill is going to fall in love with him, your agent has to fall in love too.

Despite an inauspicious meeting when Daniel pounces on Jill after catching her eavesdropping on a particularly nasty fight coming from his house, E
xcellent! We now know Daniel has conflict in his life too it’s not long before the two are escaping together night after night, and not just to Jill’s roof. Good – now I want to know where else they’re escaping to. Jill knows what it feels like to fall for a guy who doesn’t fall back, after all she’d been in love with her best friend Sean since grade school, and getting over him had been nearly impossible, This confuses me … did she get over him before Daniel popped into the picture? but she can’t help the fluttering excitement she feels with Daniel, even if he treats her like a little kid most of the time. But Jill’s budding happiness is destroyed in one short weekend when Daniel suddenly stops treating Jill like a kid, Sean kisses her, and her mother returns wanting the one thing Jill has feared since she left. Great wrap up sentence!

Complete at 73k words, Starry Starry Night is a contemporary YA that explores all the happiness and heartbreak that love--in all it's punctuation counts on queries, and every writer should have the Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing by Mignon Fogarty at his/her fingertips forms--can bring.

Now is a great time to tell me a little about yourself. Is there anything that relates to writing that would influence an agent to choose you over another? If not, that’s okay too. It’s better to say nothing than to rattle on about things that have no significance.

Thank you so much for your consideration.  


With a little streamlining, this is a great letter and your novel sounds wonderful … good luck!!

Gina Rosati is the author of the upcoming YA paranormal romance, AURACLE (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan - August 7, 2012).