Today we have a new installment of our query series, where authors share queries that worked, and agents explain why. Please welcome Jennifer Johnson-Blalock of Liza Dawson Associates, and Rebecca Barrow, author of You Don't Know Me But I Know You, coming 2017 from HarperTeen!
Rebecca Barrow writes stories about girls and all the wonders they can be. A lipstick obsessive with the ability to quote the entirety of Mean Girls, she lives in England, where it rains a considerable amount more than in the fictional worlds of her characters. She collects tattoos, cats, and more books than she could ever possibly read. You can find her on Twitter @RebeccaKBarrow.
This was the fourth book I'd queried (but the ninth I'd actually written), and the one after The One That Was Going To Get Me An Agent. (Spoiler alert: it didn't.) With The One, I queried for a full year, hoping for that "This was great! Can we set up a call?" email (which I never got). This time around it only took a couple of months to get that email, and I was thrilled. I wrote out all my questions and practiced saying, "I have an agent!" But that call didn't end in an offer of representation, and I thought about just giving up. I thought about it, and kept sending out queries anyway, barely more than a handful in all, because what was the worst that could happen?
A couple of months after the unsuccessful call, I sent a query to Hannah Bowman at Liza Dawson Associates, which-I'll admit it-I knew was a long shot. She had requested from me before, but I knew this book wasn't really her thing, and I felt proven right when the rejection came. But the next day another email popped into my inbox, with the subject "Partial Manuscript Request". It was from Jennifer Johnson-Blalock; she said Hannah had passed my query to her, and could she see the first fifty pages?
It was a really fun surprise (and you don't get many of those during the querying process). I'm going to be totally honest: I wasn't familiar with Jennifer at all. I did the requisite Googling, though, and she seemed cool and-more importantly-legitimate. She was on the LDA site, she had previous experience at agencies I knew of and respected, and she'd gotten my query from Hannah, an agent I'd followed for years. So I sent the fifty pages and crossed my fingers.
The next day she asked for the full, and a few days later I got that "This was great! Can we set up a call?" email. I prepped for The Call again and told myself not to put so much expectation on it this time; maybe she didn't want to represent me. After all, it had happened before. But when we spoke on the phone we completely clicked, discussing Friday Night Lights and our problems with Knocked Up, her ideas for my book, what we both wanted out of a client/agent relationship, and so much more. At the end of the call, when Jennifer said that she wanted to offer me representation, I already knew I wanted to say yes. And that is how I got my agent, without ever actually querying her.
Dear Ms. Bowman,
If Audrey Spencer's life was a book, it would be one of those cool, glossy coffee table volumes, filled with the pictures she takes: of her adoptive mom laughing with that radiant smile; of her best friend Rose dancing, carefree and careless; of her boyfriend Julian, sweat-slicked and determined behind his bass guitar.
Only one photograph would ruin it: the pregnancy test and its sneering positive result. Now instead of worrying about framing and aperture, Audrey's thoughts are filled with this possible baby-a baby that would derail her art school plans, that would turn Julian's music career dreams into dust.
Figuring out what to do is driving her almost insane, but the one person she trusts to decipher her crazy is pulling away and Audrey can't figure out why Rose is suddenly so distant. All she does know is that time keeps moving and the pressure keeps building and then - a letter slips into her hands. A letter from the girl who gave her up seventeen years ago.
THE QUIETEST KIND is a YA Contemporary novel complete at 74,000 words which I believe will appeal to fans of Sarah Dessen and Nina LaCour. Previously I have been shortlisted for the Franco-British Council Short Story Prize, and I was the 2010 recipient of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust Prize for Best Writer Under the Age of 21.
Thank you for your consideration.
So, yes-I stole this query. Okay, maybe not stole; I had permission. Rebecca was my first client (and my first sale!). My colleague Hannah mentioned that she had a number of queries for contemporary YA and women's fiction, which she wasn't as open to as she'd been previously. Since I was just starting out, I asked if she would be so kind as to let me take a look. And thankfully, Liza Dawson Associates is a very collaborative place, and Hannah shared.
I was hesitant about requesting pages from Rebecca, only because stories about babies and pregnancy are rarely for me. Fortunately, this turned out to be exactly the sort of pregnancy book I'd want, and there were a few things about the query that tipped the scales for me.
I really loved how Rebecca incorporated character description using the coffee table book metaphor-it didn't just convey information; it told me something extra about the story and the main character.
And I thought the word choice in the query was fantastic-the adjective "sneering," for instance, tells me much more about the level of conflict Audrey feels about her pregnancy than more expositional sentences about her state of mind would. In short, I liked the writing style; it gave me a good feel for
what reading the manuscript would be like, which isn't true of many queries that often feel divorced from the book in style and tone.
The Nina LaCour comp is what sealed the request for me, and I think it's a more apt comparison than Sarah Dessen (I love them both, for the record). Comp titles are both valuable and tricky-I think if it's possible to explain WHY your book is comparable, that can be incredibly beneficial. I would say for
instance that Rebecca evokes Nina LaCour's lyrical, heartfelt but cool writing style.
In looking at this query again, I realized that I've been misremembering the bio information Rebecca included. While what she has about being an award recipient is great and was definitely a positive factor for me, I love how much personality is injected into Rebecca's current bio (see below). Just a
little bit of that-a sentence or two-in the query letter would have made me request that much faster.
But obviously, I requested, I read (sadly, I do not read as quickly now that I'm further into my agenting career), and I fell in love. I was thrilled that Rebecca decided to take a chance on a new agent-I can't imagine a better first client, and I cannot wait for her book to be in readers' hands next summer.
Jennifer Johnson-Blalock joined Liza Dawson Associates as an associate agent in 2015, having previously interned at LDA in 2013 before working as an agent's assistant at Trident Media Group. Jennifer graduated with honors from The University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in English and earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Before interning at LDA, she practiced entertainment law and taught high school English and debate. Follow her on Twitter @JJohnsonBlalock, and visit her website: www.jjohnsonblalock.com.