Now, let's get started. First, the query!
Dear Awesome Agent,12-year-old Victoria Wright never minded having only one friend—until he disappeared.When messy, rumpled piano prodigy Lawrence Prewitt goes missing, he throws Victoria’s perfectly ordered world into chaos. Without Lawrence, Victoria has no one to walk to the Academy with, no one to reprimand for not doing his homework again, no one’s life to run but her own.Naturally, Victoria launches an investigation. It's not that she misses Lawrence's company…much. It's just the principle of the matter. Friends aren’t supposed to disappear for no reason.But Lawrence isn’t the only missing child in town. The grown-ups are lying and keeping secrets. Victoria realizes that picture-perfect Belleville isn’t what it seems, especially Mrs. Cavendish’s children’s home down the street. Kids who go there come out better—prettier, smarter, perfect—or they don’t come out at all. When Victoria gets snatched away herself, she becomes the last chance of not only Lawrence, but the other stolen kids, too. All she has to do is outsmart Mrs. Cavendish before she and her living, breathing orphanage trap them all inside—or change them—for good.THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS is a 49,000-word dark fairy tale for middle grade readers. Fans of Neil Gaiman’s CORALINE and Roald Dahl’s MATILDA will find much to enjoy here—just as long as they don’t eat the food.Thank you for your consideration. The complete manuscript is available upon your request.Best,Claire Legrand
The bulk of my querying experience didn't come with CAVENDISH. It came with the book before it, the first book I ever wrote, and the first book I ever queried.
I was woefully under-prepared to query that first book. In fact, it probably shouldn't have ever seen the light of day, not at that stage. It was too long, too slow, too much. But query it I did -- query after query after query, which resulted in lots of rejections and a few curious requests. One of those curious requests was from my current agent, Diana Fox. She saw something in that nervous query and somewhat crazed manuscript, something that prompted her to meet with me at a local conference and (lovingly) rip me to shreds. Something that kept us in touch over the next several months as I churned out inadequate revisions and then, started work on another project entirely.
Then, when I'd finished that other project, that second book, and titled it The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, I sent it to Diana even though I knew she didn't represent middle grade. I also queried other agents at the same time because I figured Diana wouldn't be interested. But I had to try. I had been so impressed by her knowledge and passion when we spoke at that conference, and so appreciative of her helpful criticism, that I couldn't just ignore her.
So, I sent it. And a few days later, she responded offering representation. At the same time, a couple of other wonderful and enthusiastic agents had also offered representation, and I was so honored and amazed to receive those offers. But in the end, I went with Diana. Not only did she love Cavendish, but she also had so much enthusiasm for my career beyond Cavendish, and for me as a person. And I've been thrilled to be her client ever since.
About the query itself: As you can see, I tried to give the Cavendish query the same distinctive voice as Cavendish itself. I think that's always a good strategy -- to, without being gimmicky, imbue your query with the style and voice of the manuscript itself. Not only does it make your query pop out of whatever pile the agent is reading, it also gives the agent an indicator of what your book is like. Also, some people warned me against using comp titles, especially such classic comp titles as Coraline and Matilda, in my query, but I think comp titles, carefully chosen, can be a very helpful tool to succinctly communicate the audience for whom you're writing.
I think this is a terrific query, but it didn't make me want to read
Claire's book. Not because of anything to do with the query itself--which was strong enough that I drew heavily from it in the cover letter I sent to editors when submitting the manuscript--but because I already knew I was going to read CAVENDISH before I ever saw the query for it. At the time, I thought I wasn't really into middle grade, but when Claire asked if I would be interested in taking a look at her middle grade novel (even though she knew I didn't normally handle middle grade), I said yes because I knew I liked HER... and more importantly, I liked her writing.
And it wasn't like I HATED middle grade or anything! I had grown up
reading the classics, but I also knew I would have rejected the first Harry Potter book if I'd come across it in my slush pile, and thus I thought that perhaps my judgment about what constituted a wonderful and SALABLE middle grade book might be somewhat questionable. So when I read CAVENDISH and loved it, I wasn't quite sure what that meant. I knew it had a classic feel that I thought would appeal to adults as well as young readers, but I didn't know if the things which drew me to the story were the same things that would help it sell to its target market. Fortunately at the time I had a wonderful intern and a trusted colleague who both read a lot of middle grade books in the vein of Cavendish, so I asked them to read the manuscript and give me their opinions. Basically what I was asking was: do I like this for reasons that would make people who actually read a lot of middle grade reject it, or do I like it because it really is as good and original and timeless as it seems? And happily, the answer was a resounding yes, the book really is just that good.
I was so relieved, because my gut instinct was to offer Claire representation anyway; even if I hadn't been able to sell CAVENDISH, I didn't want any other agent snatching her up and I very much wanted to work with her on future projects. That was the final confirmation for me that Claire was an author I wanted to represent, because much as I loved CAVENDISH, whether or not others shared my love for this one book wasn't the deciding factor in whether I could see working with her over the course of her career.
This experience reminded me yet again, as an agent but also as a reader, how important it is to be open to genres I might not naturally gravitate toward. I feel like as with food, it's okay to have favorites, but I have more to gain than I have to lose by trying something new! Although I'm still not sure I'm brave enough to try fugu "puffer fish" sushi. But most of the time, the risks are pretty low, and who knows? I just might find a new favorite, like I did with Claire and her fabulous book.
Thank you so much for sharing, Claire and Diana! For more info on Claire and Cavendish, see below.
To win a hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, fill out the form below! Contest is U.S./Canada only. Contest ends September 14th. a Rafflecopter giveaway