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Query Series: Michelle Schusterman & Sarah Davies

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

Author Michelle Schusterman
Agent Sarah Davies of The Greenhouse Literary Agency

from Michelle:
Add me to the list of those crazies who enjoy writing queries - in fact, I usually do it before I write more than a chapter or so of the first draft. It's kind of like my guide, what I want the story to be, that keeps me focused as I write.

In this case, I had an okay query written for Frostproof when I started the first draft. About halfway through the book, I was stuck and turned back to the query. Reading through the second paragraph, the idea for organizing the ghosts according to their issues on the blog came to me, and I scribbled it down - it was in the query before it was in the book!

After I finished the first draft, a revision round, got some great beta feedback, and another revision round, I polished this up and sent it out. Unlike my first novel, which I queried unsuccessfully for a year, the process was speedy - Sarah was in my first round of agents. I queried Thursday, she requested a full on Saturday and called me on Sunday to offer representation. I'm fairly certain the baristas at my cafe thought I was having a stroke.

the query:

According to Ruth Pepperton's séance-loving stepmom Nita, every town has its ghosts – even Frostproof, Florida. But they can't tell you what they need unless you invite them. So Ruth does what any tech-savvy eighth grade girl would do: she starts a blog inviting all the Frostproof ghosts to tell her their problems.

It works better than she planned. Now Ruth is stuck with tons of weird, anonymous comments, not to mention troubled spirits messing around in the wiring of the school computers. When she misinterprets a comment and causes a humiliating accident at the Halloween dance, Ruth decides to get this spook thing under control. Organizing them is easy – Monday is for long-lost love laments, Tuesday is family drama, Wednesday and Thursday are revenge and unresolved business, and Friday is for general warnings of impending doom. (No blogging on the weekends – Ruth has a life, kind of.)

But when a few comments warn her of a serious threat to the town's upcoming Frost Festival, Ruth begins to regret getting into the spook business. Nita is trying to help, but she's having enough trouble with ghosts of her own. Now it's Ruth's turn to be the medium, and she needs to figure out what these spirits want before Frostproof's ghost population gets a dangerous increase in traffic.

I'm an associate editor for Matador Travel, an online travel magazine, and a blogger and co-founder of The first chapter is pasted below.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration!

from Sarah:

Michelle’s query immediately stood out to me because it embodies a lot of things I love in commercial middle-grade/tween fiction.

It is conceptually strong, with some very neat twists, and yet it also hits emotional notes too, which is very important. What could be more fun than a tween medium – and yet Michelle goes a step further than that, by mixing in the tech stuff too with her protagonist Ruth’s website/blog. It adds up to a contemporary spin that takes the ghostly element in new directions. Very cool, tween friendly, and, most importantly, I’d never seen it done before.

There is humour here, which is essential to this kind of fiction. You can’t help but smile when you read how Ruth is going to organize her spooks according to days of the week. It’s so cute and funny – it’s adorable! But very cleverly there’s also a sense of depth – something poignant is going on beneath the fun, conceptual exterior. We know not only that the ghosts will tell Ruth their problems, but crucially that Nita, the stepmom, has ‘ghosts of her own’. Hmm, what could those be? Immediately we are intrigued and want to read on, because we’re betting they will affect Ruth and that she will discover ghost-hunting has a strong and unexpected impact on her own life. And here lies another important truth about high-concept fiction – however clever the premise, you MUST touch the heart of the reader and make them relate to your protagonist, and that can be done even if your story is essentially light, fun and relatively fluffy.

So we have conceptual strength, humour, coolness, and potential poignancy. But that’s not all! Finally we discover that things are going to get dangerous in Frostproof – that the ghost population could grow. How? Why? Are things going to get a little dark? I think so – and that brings an element of ‘high stakes’ into the plot – another essential to the package.

I loved the freshness of this story and the careful, concise crafting of the query. I could tell this was someone with serious ambition and talent and that was confirmed when I read the sample pages. But then I could tell they would be good just from reading the submission. At the foot of Michelle’s query was a strong line of bio. She sounded interesting, industry-aware and very much in the zone of someone with a future in this area.

I picked up the phone and called her right away – and, I like to think, gave her a huge shock by immediately offering her representation.

Want to query Sarah Davies? Guidelines can be found at her agency's website.

Other installments in our query series:

Kirsten Hubbard

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

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  1. Love the query, AND the book :)

  2. I'm so excited to read this book! It sounds amazing!

  3. I must say, the query was sharp, and I'm jealous of your query writing skills. I think the part about organizing the ghosts into specific days sounded original and cute.

    Sounds like it'll be a great read!

  4. I can see why Sarah offered representation so quickly - the book sounds awesome! :)

  5. Sounds like an awesome book with a unique direction! Thanks for sharing the info on query letters! It's great to have examples of really great queries!

  6. This sounds amazing, I don't blame her for jumping at it within the week! It's rare you find original hooks when it comes to paranormal after all.

  7. Sounds interesting! And hey, you're an editor for Matador Travel? I didn't put that together, I've had an article published there. :)

  8. Great query, and the book sounds awesome! :)


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Item Reviewed: Query Series: Michelle Schusterman & Sarah Davies Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard