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Query Series: April Tucholke and Joanna Volpe

In our Query Series, writers share with us the query letter that helped them land an agent--and why the letter worked, from the agent's point of view. Today we are pleased to feature debut author April Tucholke and her agent, Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation. April's horror novel, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, will be published in 2013 by Dial, an imprint of Penguin.

From April

I wrote my Devil book after reading this article when I lived in Scotland. This true story was my muse. I didn't write my query until I had gotten my ms back from my CP, edited, edited again.  And again. I had a fair idea what I was doing (I'd been rep'd before, so this was not my first query.  My first query was...innocent and hopeful and clueless. And had footnotes. I'm not kidding.) I used Literary Rambles extensively for agent research.

This round of querying, unlike in the past, was awesome. I had a (very, very) small list of top agents--ones who represented books I loved, ones who were looking for books I wanted to write, ones who I'd heard were attentive and sweet to their clients, ones who had a sense of humor--that's a big thing for me.

Joanna got back to me within minutes, requesting my full. And then, about 24 hours later, I got a phone call. It was...a good day.

I think my query is all right. I can't believe my ms was only 53k, then. It's near 76k now. I liked adding in the Meg Rosoff and King part--it can be risky, comparing your book to brilliant, beloved, already published books, but I went for it. I love reading, and the books I've read form a huge part of who I am. My mom tells people that after I learned how to read as a kid, she never really saw me again. It's kind of true. I disappeared into a book hole, and only emerged, pale and nearsighted, after I graduated high school.

The Query:

Violet's best friend faints outside an old train tunnel on the first day of summer.  A group of boys gather in the cemetery to hunt a monster.  A man kills himself in the town square, and a bully throws himself in front of a train.

River West is the seventeen-year old stranger renting the guesthouse behind the tumbledown mansion on the sea, where Violet lives.  And as things start happening in Violet's town, she begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard.  Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with sweet eyes and a mysterious past?  Or could he be something else?  Something...evil?
       
Violet's great-grandmother had warned her about the Devil, had talked about him often, as though he were a best friend, or an old lover.  But she never told Violet whether the Devil could be real.  She never told Violet whether the Devil could be a pretty boy who likes coffee and kisses you in a cemetery and makes you fall in love.       

Violet is about to find out that the Devil can be all these things, and a hell of a lot more.       

Violet is about to find out that the Devil is real--that the Devil is so close she could reach out and hold his hand.    

Only, it's not who she thinks it is.

THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA is a 53,000 word YA paranormal/horror.  I believe it will appeal to readers who liked the eerie, atmospheric writing in Bow's Plain Kate, the smart, sensitive teen voice in Rosoff's How I Live Now, and the chills of King's The Shining and The Body.  I have a BA in creative writing and live in Portland, Oregon.  I have attached the first five pages of my manuscript below this email. Thank you for your consideration.


From Joanna

source
Maybe I have a dark side, but I was enticed by this query within the first paragraph. It's almost suspenseful, in a punchy way...the way she lists out these tense events.  The line that grabbed me and held me tight is the second one: "A group of boys gather in the cemetery to hunt a monster."  Funny enough, the same article that inspired April is something I had read in the past as well. The Gorbals Vampire story haunted me in a very old-fashioned way when I first heard about it--it made me scared to get out of bed at night and tip toe to my window to peek outside.  What would I find there?  I didn't want to know.

And when I read April's query for BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, I got that feeling again.

April writes like she talks, and she talks like she writes.  I could tell that from the fluid, almost poetic cadence of her query.  I love stories about people and evil and creepy things, and dark secrets that span over generations.  April didn't know this, but the further I read on the query, the more I was hooked already.  She thought it sounded like a romance, but I could see through that.  Tricksy, tricksy.

Then she got me further with her comp titles.  How was she to know that Stephen King is still one of my all-time favorite authors?  Or that I loved Plain Kate?  Or that I thought Meg Rosoff was a brilliant writer?  It was clear that this was an author who read books that I liked, too.  And this confirmed something very important to me: she knew her audience.

When April's manuscript came in, I stayed up late into the night reading.  It was a Friday.  I called her on Saturday and left a long rambling message about her writing and being too scared to read on at 3am, and I can't really remember the rest (not my most professional of moments--what is it about a good story that can leave you giddy and rambling?).  I spent the rest of the weekend wondering if April would think I was crazy.

I got the query, read the story and offered representation in under 24 hours.  

I am so damn glad that I did.


Thank you, April and Joanna, for taking the time to share your thoughts with us!
Stephanie Kuehn

Stephanie is the William C. Morris award-winning author of Charm & Strange, Complicit, Delicate Monsters, and The Smaller Evil.

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20 comments:

  1. April, I'm so happy for you, and so incredibly excited about DEVIL!!! You know I'm rushing to get this as soon as it's out. Like pushing little kids and old people out of the way rushing! You write GOOD.

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    1. So do you Four-Posts. So do you. I read myself some Dualed last night, oh yes I did. It's so awesome.

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  2. What a helpful post! I'm an aspiring author and the idea that daunts me the most isn't that I'll never get published (although that is still a concern) it's the query letter. I have nightmares about those things! Thanks for the insight, great to have an Agent's POV TOO!

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    1. Try not to stress too much over the query letter, Book me. Make it snappy, make it vivid, make it you. And it will be good.

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  3. That query has a lot going on, but it works. And it's especially helpful to hear directly from Joanna why it works, because it's all so subjective.

    This is a post most excellent. Thanks, Stephanie, April, and Joanna!

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  4. April, that query hooked me from the first line. I am kind of blown away by it. This is exactly the kind of book I LOVE reading. And so cool to see the reaction from your agent!

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    1. Ha, thanks Megan. I read that query so many times before I sent it that I started to think it was the dumbest thing I'd ever written. Even now I still view it with suspicion, like it retains the power to betray me.

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  5. I absolutely can't wait for this book to come out! Very cool to see how it all came together. Sounds like you guys are a perfect match:)

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    1. Thanks, Amy! And yes, we are. The King love strikes hard and goes deep.

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  6. Oh. My. Gosh. I need this book right now! *grabby hands!*

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    1. Seriously, this is right up my alley! I've been waiting for more YA horror, and this hits all my favorite buttons. I know how Joanna must have felt getting this in her inbox!

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    2. Bring on the YA horror! I have such fond memories of reading Richie Cusick's trashy awesome THE LIFEGUARD as a teenager. And Sleator's INTERSTELLAR PIG. And I AM THE CHEESE by Cormier. Here's hoping Kendare Blake's ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD is just the start of a neo-YA horror wave.

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  7. April, I can't even imagine what it was like to get Joanna's rambling message--not proof that she's crazy, just proof that she GOT YOUR BOOK. And it got her, hee hee. A match made in . . . that other place.

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    1. Well, Angelica, my face went bright red as I listened to her message. It does this when I'm feeling something kind of intense--I don't scream or dance around, I just sit still and blush. Hard.

      A match made in hell. Oh, that's funny.

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  8. April, this query is the best. THE BEST. As if I weren't already dying to read your book, then you have to go and share this? Really great stuff.

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  9. Hey, thanks so much, Brandy. As I told Megan, this query and I are more cheerful enemies than reluctant friends. But it came through in the end, so I'm in its debt.

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  10. April, I still dig this query letter, even months after reading it for the first time. So creepy, atmospheric, and haunting...Just like the book :)

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    1. Erin--you were the first to read this query, and the last, before it went out. When I said it sucked you said it didn't. Thanks for that.

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Item Reviewed: Query Series: April Tucholke and Joanna Volpe Rating: 5 Reviewed By: stephanie kuehn