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Query Series: Carolyn Lee Adams and Mandy Hubbard Discuss RUTHLESS

In our Query Series, writers share with us the letter that helped land them an agent--and why the letter worked, from the agent's point of view. Today we are pleased to welcome debut author (and stand-up comedian!) Carolyn Lee Adams and her agent, Mandy Hubbard of D4EO Literary Agency. Carolyn's YA thriller, RUTHLESS, will be published by Simon Pulse in June, 2015. You can keep up with Carolyn on her website and on twitter.

From Carolyn:

I had followed Mandy's blog for some time when she posted a most serendipitous video of her drive home--a road I had traveled countless times growing up outside of Seattle. Learning that Mandy was from my neck of the woods was especially meaningful to me, as those woods were the dumping ground of the Green River Killer. Everyone I grew up with was marked in some way by the experience of having so many dead bodies found so close to home. Certainly, his presence loomed large in my imagination and informed my writing. I figured Mandy would share my sensibility. I also really loved Mandy's novels, particularly But I Love Him(written as Amanda Grace). Its dark tone was another clue we shared a writerly affinity.

When I completed my third novel, Mandy was at the top of my list of agents to query. In her reply, I learned she had shown horses at all the same venues I had. She was also fun and enthusiastic, which put me at ease. It felt like an instant click.

I submitted my query to Mandy on June 3rd. On June 28th, she requested the full. She offered representation on September 30th. This might sound strange, but I didn't get impatient during that wait. I felt at peace that what was meant to be, would be, and I did not send out additional queries. The agent I wanted was reading my full and that was enough for me. Also, I was busy working as a stand-up comic, which was wonderfully distracting. What can I say? Dead bodies and jokes. Because that goes together.

When I got the call, she suggested a title change to RUTHLESS, which I loved, as well as a couple of other great notes. A week later, we went out with it. Less than a week after that, Simon Pulse made an offer. On Columbus Day, Mandy finalized the deal. Throughout the process, Mandy was just such a rock star--equal parts enthusiastic cheerleader and totally rad businesswoman. I am incredibly grateful to have her as my agent.

The Query:

Dear Ms. Hubbard,
At seventeen, Ruth Carver knows what it is to win. A fierce competitor with a killer instinct, she has no friends on the Quarter Horse A Circuit. Her life revolves around keeping the family farm on top of the horse show ranks--until one morning she finds herself trapped under a pile of manure in the bed of a pick-up truck.
Jerry has been clean for a long time. He goes to his AA meetings religiously, letting the people think his addiction is to alcohol. But it's just when you believe you have the disease beat that it comes back to bite you. For Jerry, the disease arrives in the shape of a redheaded teenager, a creature designed to pull him off the wagon. When the girl gets him fired from his job at her family's ranch, he knows it's time to act.
Once Ruth is taken to Jerry's cabin, she resolves to best this competition as she would any other--through strategy, determination and sheer fight. She manages to escape into the Blue Ridge Mountains, where she learns that her adversary is not only the woodsman on her trail, but a vast, uncaring wilderness.
After Ruth is denied help by a couple who should have rescued her, she retreats into her own darker nature. When Jerry catches up with her, Ruth manages to take control of the situation--and discovers that the line between good and evil is a thin one.
THE RUTHLESS GINGER is a 59,000 word YA Thriller and my third novel. As someone who grew up off of Auburn-Black Diamond Road during The Green River Killer's most active years, I've long dreamed of querying you, a fellow Washingtonian who understands my neck of the woods.
Sincerely, Carolyn Adams

Mandy's Thoughts:

Carrie is correct! As soon as her query arrived, I knew we had something in common-- In fact, I replied:

Carolyn, I can't request this fast enough! Have you ever ridden at Green River Saddle Club? It's close to the Auburn-Black Diamond Road. I used to do horse shows there. Anyway, I'd LOVE to read this.

The "cant reply fast enough" had far more to do with her pitch than the geographical overlap, but it was super fun to see that we had roots that so closely overlapped. Turned out that she and I had shown horses at the exact same show grounds! Definitely the first time EVER a querier and I had so much in common. As far as the query, I do think she took a risk, as far as YA, focusing so much on the adult character--he does get a whole paragraph! But then combined with the teen character, it truly enhanced the deadly stakes and the creepy factor for sure.

After requesting her book...I got busy. And wasn't able to read quickly. Three months passed-- writers, take heart! A lack of response DOES NOT mean we are not enthusiastic-- it may just mean we are busy.

In any case, I got an email from my intern. A highlight from the email? "God damn this book is awesome."

So I knew I should drop everything and read. How could I not? I had planned to go to the DMV the next day, as I needed an enhanced license in order to cross into Canada for a writer's conference in a few weeks' time. So I bought along my fully charged kindle, grabbed a number at the entrance, and sat down with RUTHLESS.

Five chapters later, after I'd fallen in love in every way possible- The WRITING! The CHARACTERS! The VOICE! ahh!-- I instant-messaged my assistant on my phone, convinced there was no way this book hadn't been snapped up. Surely, my three month delay meant I had lost this book. It was way too amazing. She searched my inbox, found no mention of an offer from another agent, so I kept reading.

And reading.

And reading.

At one point I glanced up, realizing it had been an hour since I had bothered to listen for my number. I had sat in a hard plastic chair at the DMV and gotten so lost in her book, I forgot where I was! Turns out they had not yet called me, but when they did 20 minutes later, I was disappointed. I would have traded numbers with someone just to sit in that chair for another half hour. I hustled through the licensing process and then drove down the road all of two miles or so, found a lunch locale, sat down and ate lunch and finished the manuscript.

I emailed her before leaving the restaurant to ask if she was available for a call. I still pinch myself at the huge luck that Carrie had enough to occupy her over the summer that she hadn't sent out another round of queries. There's no doubt in my mind I would've been competing with many agents had she done so. And we work so wonderfully together, I think we have a long author-agent relationship in front of us! I am so pleased to have sold it so quickly, and to such a great publisher. I can't wait for the world to read this truly creeptastic YA-- in June of 2015!

While you're waiting to get your hands on RUTHLESS, check out these stills from the RUTHLESS trailer, featuring the wilderness cabin and the killer. If THESE doesn't creep you out, I don't know what will.

Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Great write-up! Writing is a talent, and it must not be wasted. As with everything that we had been entrusted, we should

    let it grow and share it with the world.> self

    improvement tips

  2. This book sounds so awesome! I can't wait to read it!

  3. WAY cool to hear this whole story about how the book deal came to be. And RUTHLESS truly is awesome--I've read it! (I feel special...oh-so special...)


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Item Reviewed: Query Series: Carolyn Lee Adams and Mandy Hubbard Discuss RUTHLESS Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook