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Query Series: Kaitlin Ward & Elizabeth Jote

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 Kaitlin Ward
Agent Elizabeth Jote of Objective Entertainment

from Kaitlin:

Query writing, for me, is stressful, to put it delicately. Succinctness is not one of my best skills. But somehow, I managed to pull together a query for this manuscript that my amazing query critiquers didn’t think needed too much work, so with a few tweaks, it was ready to go. It got a reasonable request rate, much better than the manuscript I’d queried unsuccessfully before it.

Liz called me without warning when she’d had the full for about three weeks, which was terrifying, but ultimately worked out better because the idea of waiting for a scheduled phone call gives me hives. She was easy to talk to, enthusiastic, and answered all my follow-up questions via email quickly and perfectly. A week later, she became my agent.

the query:
Sixteen-year-old Olivia Stern is dead—and loving it. Now that she’s over the initial shock, she’s basking in the perks of the Good District. Maybe a little too much. A series of bad choices earn her the ultimate punishment: a temporary return to the life she thought she was so over. Before she can even complain, she’s back in her comatose body, seeming like some kind of miracle.

Olivia misses the comforts of the Afterlife, but she doesn’t want to waste her second chance at living. Especially when she attracts the attention of sweet, slightly neurotic Grayson. She’s also determined to find out what happened the night she died. Which would probably be a lot easier if she could remember any of it.

In the meanwhile, Olivia realizes there are some major aspects of her personality that need fixing, too, like the selfish tendencies she picked up in the Afterlife. As things get more serious with Grayson, she wonders if she’s being fair to him. Her foray into life isn’t permanent, after all, and Grayson’s life is unraveling enough without adding a dead girlfriend to the mix. And when the pieces of her murder puzzle unveil a darker side to some of her loved ones, she starts to wonder if the truth is worse than knowing nothing at all.

from Elizabeth:
A girl who gets kicked out of the Afterlife for being a brat temporarily comes back to the land of the living, only to fall in love, become a better person, and solve the mystery of her death? Yes, please! First off, did you notice that I was able to summarize the entire premise so easily? That, ladies and gentleman, is the stuff good pitches are made of.

Kaitlin’s active voice and succinct manner of explaining the deceptively simple plot made her query stand out from the pack. More importantly, those brief paragraphs gave me a strong sense of the promise that Kaitlin had as a writer. Her query hinted at world-building, romance, mystery, a ticking clock to move the plot along, and quirky characters without overselling the emotional points. I was immediately intrigued , but the proof is always in the manuscript.

Because YA is so dependent on trends, it can be easy to fall into the cliché ditch, which is why a strong teen voice is so vital to me. If an author has that, then nine times out of ten they won’t lead you, their premise, or their MC to a place everyone has already been. Kaitlin’s vision of the Afterlife was so distinctive that SO DEAD felt fresh to me. The dialogue was snappy, the characters were believable, and most of all no one ( not even Olivia) was perfect. Perfection of any sort is the knife that kills authentic teen characters. Characters that are too quirky can be murderous in the submission stage as well. Real people have highs and lows, and Kaitlin knew that. Kaitlin gave Olivia the greatest gift that any storyteller could give their characters; dimension. Olivia was a brat. She yelled, schemed and treated people badly, but I loved her anyway because at her core, she was good. She had a conscience and she acted on it. She had a true voice and heart, and that counts with me because both are things no edit note can ever give a writer. You can’t fake authenticity, someone has to come to that level of writing on their own through hard work.

I called Kaitlin after reading and gave my best pitch. When she agreed, I was thrilled and yapped about it all day ( much to the chagrin of my loved ones). When she sent me her WIP ideas, I was floored. We bounced ideas back and forth and she cherry picked the good ones. That kind of sense of self is very appealing to me as an agent because I prefer to agent like a cabbie ; you tell me where you want to go and I’ll decide the best route to get there. Kaitlin is very focused on where she wants to go as a writer, and what she would like to give to her eventual readership. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

Want to query Elizabeth Jote? Guidelines can be found on her agentquery page.
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. These are so helpful, thanks for posting these!

  2. What awesome comments. I love the agent = cabbie idea!

    And Kaitlin, and her query, rock my socks. :)

  3. So cool seeing how unique each book is in this series!

  4. I love these posts and again, SO EASY to see why this mss was snatched up. As soon as I read the first paragraph I thought "I wish I had thought of that" and was sitting up eager to see how it developed. Totally a win.

    I, too, love Liz's description of herself as a cabbie. Fun.

  5. I agree. Agent=cabbie sounds like an awesome partnership. This query, much like the story, was made of awesome.

  6. Love, love the query, and the book sounds just as AWESOME as the lovely lady who wrote it! Many, many congrats, Kaitlin!!!

    PS> I posted Saturday, but blogger was EVIL!


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Item Reviewed: Query Series: Kaitlin Ward & Elizabeth Jote Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard