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Query Series: Kirsten Hubbard & Michelle Andelman

In this new Saturday series, YA Highway writers share the query letters that landed their agents -- and why the queries worked, from the agents themselves. First up...

Author Kirsten Hubbard
Agent Michelle Andelman of Lynn C. Franklin Associates

from Kirsten:

Last May, I queried Michelle Andelman with what turned out to be my debut novel, LIKE MANDARIN (Delacorte, March 2011). I didn't wrestle with my query letter too much -- I enjoy query writing, and jot down summary ideas the whole time I'm writing a novel. Michelle was part of the first & only round of agents I queried, and she requested a full within half an hour, along with the full of a second book I'd been querying, WANDERLOVE. She offered representation a weekend later. I couldn't have found a better match!

A few months ago, I wrote about my querying process and signing with Michelle in more detail on my blog.

the query:

In the wind-battered town of Washokey, Wyoming, fourteen-year-old Grace Carpenter longs to stand out. But Grace rejects her mother's beauty pageant ideals and the superficial obsessions of her classmates. True beauty is seventeen-year-old Mandarin Ramey—the town slut.

Grace would give anything to be like Mandarin: self-assured, shameless, and utterly carefree. She doesn't realize Mandarin is searching for somebody, too. When a teacher unites the misfits for a history project, they forge an unlikely, explosive friendship, packed with nights spent skinny-dipping in the canal, liberating the town's animal-head trophies, and constantly searching for someplace magic.

Grace plays along when Mandarin coaxes her into a pact to run away together. She believes it's all part of the game. But for Mandarin, it's real. As Grace learns the truth about the volatile older girl, she finds even Mandarin's unique beauty can't compensate for the emotional turmoil underneath. And even the closest friendships can't withstand betrayal.

LIKE MANDARIN is a young adult novel, complete at 66,000 words.

I’m a freelance travel writer and editor, with dozens of national and regional publications, and a B.A. in literature/writing from UC San Diego. As per your agency's guidelines, I have included a sample chapter and the synopsis of my manuscript below. I look forward to hearing from you!

from Michelle:

Kirsten's query for LIKE MANDARIN was love at first sight for me. Her beautifully crafted yet concise description suggested her novel had everything I look for in the YA I most readily take on: a vivid sense of place, gorgeous writing, and characters so edgy with longing that I knew they'd be richly developed.

She also did a great job of helpfully guiding me in her letter through the full story arc -- the arc of these girls' friendship, that is to say -- from one's admiration to the other's betrayal. Kirsten does a great job, in just a few sentences, of moving you through not only her story's major plot points, but also her character's emotional pivot points. For realistic, relationship-driven YA like this, I think that's essential in the query -- that it give a sense for not only the story arc, but also the emotional arc the story will move its characters and readers through.

And, I think Kirsten also struck the right balance of detail vs. intrigue -- she gave me a couple details I found provocative (skinny-dipping!), which gave me a vivid sense for the feel of the story (the relationship!) I wanted in on, while also not giving away every step of the plot (for example, her last sentence only suggests Mandarin will betray Grace, and I loved that I was left wanting to know the details of that...and to find out I'd have to request and read the story in full!).

So, this is all to say that for a query that was both clear and compelling, I was hooked and immediately read Kirsten's sample pages cut and pasted below the query. It was by the end of the sample that I knew the voice for the story was as strong as the story itself. And, I knew LIKE MANDARIN was a book I wanted to represent for all the intensity Kirsten's query and pages promised.

Want to query Michelle Andelman? Guidelines can be found at the agency's Publishers Marketplace listing. (don't forget a short synopsis & your first 10 pages!)
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. It is a great query and am not surprised you got an offer so quickly. I enjoyed hearing what Michelle thought about the query, too! It gives me some idea of what an agent is looking for, and since I'm close to the query stage, every idea counts.

  2. Kirsten, I saw this b/f on your blog but I found myself reading it again. The query's great, the story sounds fabulous, and your agent story is what dreams are made of...sigh ;-) Plus, Michelle just sounds wondeful!

  3. I love that you're focusing on what TO do, as opposed what not to do. This is very helpful :)


  4. Wow, that is a great query. And I loved hearing Michelle's reaction. Makes me want to go rewrite my query!

  5. I think I've seen this query before, and like the first time I read it, I'm wowed. And I want to read your book. Damn release date.

    I loved reading Michelle's thoughts on your query, too. Really interesting :D

  6. Oh my god. That is like, the epitome of a perfect query. Daaang.

  7. This series will help so many people. Thanks for this!

    I remember reading your query on YALitChat and thinking about how absolutely clear and beautiful it was. I wanted to read it right than and there. Still do!

  8. That was an awesome query. I won't lie, I have been tilting my head at the title- now I love it! Lovely post, ladies.

  9. Very cool and now I really want to read Like Mandarin!

  10. Intrigued! Great query, Kirsten. And a huge thanks to Michelle for telling us what she liked about it! :)

  11. Great post and awesome query letter! That to me was the hardest part of the process!

  12. Beautiful query and thoughts! Thanks for starting this series, Kirsten.

  13. thanks so much, everyone :)

    I really hope this series is helpful! Check back every Saturday for a new query with agent comments. Like Marissa said above, sometimes I think aspiring authors are swamped with Don'ts, when examples of what works help just as much. Best of luck to everyone!

  14. Great query letter, Kirsten! (And a great idea for a series!) Looking back at my own query letter, I'm thinking M offered representation in spite of it, more than because of it, lol. Thank goodness for sample pages. ;)

  15. I love the query, but I love Michelle's take on it even more. It gives us a great understanding of what an agent looks for in a query for a relationship-based story. That's the best feedback I've read yet.


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Item Reviewed: Query Series: Kirsten Hubbard & Michelle Andelman Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard