A Very Special About My Query Post

December 25th, 2009 • Kate

In the future, will we be wearing these Gallianos? Maybe!

In the future, will we be wearing these Gallianos? Maybe!

Merry Christmas, everyone! In honor of the holiday, I thought I’d do something a little different with today’s About My Query post. (What, you thought I’d slack off today? Pshaw!) I want to share with you something that worked — a query that piqued my interest, got me to request the manuscript, and then, eventually, led to a sale. I’m thrilled to share with you Julia Karr‘s original query for XVI:

Dear Ms. Schafer,

I believe my young adult novel, XVI, may be of interest to you. It is a high concept, dystopian thriller complete at approximately 50,000 words.

“In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother, Ginnie, is in a horrible accident. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina’s father. But, first she has to find him; since for fifteen years he’s been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad.”

I appreciate your time and consideration of XVI and look forward to hearing from you.

Julia Karr

Short and sweet, but I loved the “sex-teenth” reference, and the mysterious mention of a tattoo. I’ll also give you a hint as to when this was sent by telling you at the time, dystopian YA was but a glimmer in the trend horizon.

After falling in love with the manuscript and asking for a round (or two) of revisions, I signed Julia to kt literary, and began submitting XVI. Now, some editors will tell you they don’t read cover letters from agents (especially when we call in advance to pitch the book we’re sending, as I always do), but I love writing these letters — besides my blog posts, they’re my best opportunity to be creative. So following is my first query letter for XVI:

Dear [Editor] –

As promised, I’m delighted to attach the manuscript for Julia Karr’s debut YA novel XVI. This is yours exclusively until [date].

Living in the boring suburbs of a near future Chicago ruled by the ultra controlling Governing Counsel, Nina Oberon’s life is about hanging with her best friend Sandy, going to school, and playing with her little sister Dee. Totally normal. Nothing that would attract anyone’s attention.

It’s only in her spare time and late night moments that she worries about the tattoo the G.C. insists all girls receive on their sixteenth birthday. Nina doesn’t consider herself a revolutionary, but something about the branding bothers her — and not just because it’s seen as a sign by most men that the girl is ready for sex. Nina isn’t, despite Sandy’s — and the Media’s — best efforts to convince her that turning “sex-teen” is going to be great.

When Nina’s mom Ginnie is brutally attacked, she reveals to Nina a surprising truth — Nina’s dad is alive. With her dying breath, Ginnie makes Nina promise to take a book to her dad — and protect Dee. Nina wouldn’t have guessed she’d have to worry about protecting Dee from anything, but soon after they move in with their grandparents back in Chicago, she’s fielding anonymous threatening calls and seeing a green transport following them around. Is her new friend Sal, who seems to know something he’s not telling about Nina’s dad, only interested in her because of her father? What about Ginnie’s old boyfriend? Is is trying to take Dee to be his Cinderella girl? And just who is her father?

Nina needs to figure out who’s friend, and who’s foe, and do it without the G.C.’s prying eyes and ears in her business. Or her life may be the next one taken.

Julia Karr lives in Bloomington, Indiana. XVI is her first novel, with a possible sequel already in the works. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


As you can see, I expanded on Julia’s initial query with some further details about the story, keeping the “sex-teen” reference and the tattoo plot (which will hopefully be a major part of the book’s eventual cover design and marketing plan) while revealing that Ginnie’s accident may have been malicious. I also love the seeding of certain terms like “ultra”, “G.C.” and “Cinderella girl.”

But I’ll be honest with you. This query didn’t get the book sold. We got some great notes from one of the editors who looked at it, though, and Julia revised the manuscript. So when I went out with it again, I revised my cover note:

Dear [Editor] –

As per our conversation, I’m delighted to send you the revised manuscript for Julia Karr’s novel XVI. To refresh your memory, this is set in a near-future Chicago as Nina struggles to take care of her little sister after her mother’s sudden death — and the even more sudden news that her father, long thought dead, may not only be alive but the leader of the Resistance movement. As if these outside pressures weren’t enough, Nina is also struggling with her feelings about turning sixteen, and the mandatory tattoo the Governing Council insists every sixteen-year-old girl receives to mark her legal age for sex. But just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean Nina’s ready for it.

I think Julia’s done a great job with the revisions, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


We’re back to short and sweet! And this one did the trick — although I put most of the credit on Julia and her manuscript, rather than my covering note. XVI was acquired by Jen Bonnell of Puffin Books, and will be published in Spring 2011.

So what do you think? Which version of the query/covering note worked best for you? And most importantly, do you want to read it? We hope so!!

Filed Under: About My Query, Ask Daphne!

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16 Responses to “A Very Special About My Query Post”

  1. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Merry Christmas!

    I liked the longer version you wrote because it gave more details. The original one seemed almost rushed. When is this book scheduled for release? It sounds very interesting and I would love to read it.

  2. ChristaCarol Says:

    I liked some parts of the detailed version because I got a sense of the voice, but your last one works very well, too. A great punch, really. Congrats! And Merry Christmas.

  3. Stina Says:

    Congrats, Kate, on the sell.

    I liked the first one. It piqued my interested. I really liked the second one (more details). It's the one that sold me on the book. The third one did nothing for me. If I had seen that on a jacket blurb, I doubt I would have bought the book. Why? Because I like romance in my YA books, and there's nothing here to hint that.

    My question: which version would you prefer to see (ignoring the fact you wrote two of them) if we were to query you? Does short and sweet do the trick? Or is the more detailed one better? Or does it not matter, as long as the plot and voice is clear?

    Hope you had a great Christmas!

  4. amy sue nathan Says:

    I like snappy and smart – short and sweet – especially if I was the editor who had asked for revisions. I got a little lost in the longer letter. I'm sure like with everything in publishing, it's subjective. The first was more like a mini synopsis, it was definitely fuller – it wouldn't sell the book – the actual manuscript would have to do that – so I'd want to get to it quicker. If the longer letter pointed out the specific changes that were made that would make sense but only IF the editor remembered the details. I'd think an editor would reread something as if reading it for the first time – to see if it worked.

    Congrats to you both!!!!

  5. Sherrie Petersen Says:

    I liked seeing the evolution of these letters. Thanks for the peek! The story sounds great!

  6. Stina Says:

    Okay, my brain really did turn to mush this holiday season. Ouch on the typo. I meant "sale".

    I'm really curious about the "sex-teenth." Can't wait to read the book to find out what it all means.

  7. callie Says:

    I personally preferred the short and sweet version, but my interest in the story was piqued enough to be glad I had the longer version to read as well.

    Also,I agree with Stina about liking romance in my YA. (Of course, that could just be a personal preference.) I really liked that the original query contained a hint of a romantic involvement, with the mention of Sal being "ultra-hot. The fact that Sal may be hiding stuff from her about her dad already sounds like the perfect set up for a romance.

    Anyway, I enjoyed all three queries and will definitely be looking forward to the publication of the book. Congrats on the sale!

  8. When life gets in the way « Old People Writing for Teens Says:

    […] I didn’t check out Nathan Bransford’s cool charity blog post, or the fabulous Ask Daphne query post until this morning. I felt way behind some of my more motivated […]

  9. Kristi Says:

    Happy holidays! I enjoyed the detail in your longer cover letter as I got a clearer sense of the story. It was just enough info to make me want to read more – and I definitely want to read this when it comes out. Congrats to both of you!

  10. Laura Diamond Says:

    This is very inspirational. Gotta get back into polishing my MS and query letter! Thanks for the "push."

    Happy New Year!

  11. Julia Says:

    Hi Kate! Wow – thanks for featuring my query letter!

    Let me say that before it got to you, it went through many revisions and tweaks with the help of numerous critique friends and partners. Also – this is the query that got results. I ended up with four requests for fulls from it.

    And, thanks to everyone who commented about wanting to read XVI. Yay! I really hope you like the book!

  12. Jessica Owen Says:

    What an incredibly helpful and inspiring post. Thank you so much for sharing some of the inside scoop. It's interesting to remember that agents, in turn, have to query people too.

  13. Laura Marcus Says:

    I came across this while researching a piece I am currently rewriting about chick lit and bonkbusters for one of my magazine editors. (Original piece, published in the UK, is here)

    I love how the internet draws you into areas you might never have found and while I am way beyond the YA demographic, I have always loved these books and will look out for XVI if it's published in the UK. I know a number of teenagers who I think will love it.

    Thanks for showing us the works that lead to this book being bought. Fascinating. My only ever so slightly teeny concern is that I thought the title, XVI, read like XXX – another words, title to be added later! (If that makes sense?) I realise what XVI means and I guess it refers to the tattoo? Great idea and great concept.

  14. Waiting on Wednesday, XVI by: Julia Karr « Pisces Muse Says:

    […] been wanting to read this book since Agent Kirsten first mentioned her in this blog post here & here.   At the time Dystopia wasn’t really a large feature on my reading menu, but the opening […]

  15. Alison's Book M Says:

    I don't know much about query letters, but I do know that I can't wait to read Julia's book. There is just something about it that makes me think it's going to be HUGE. Best of luck to you both!!

  16. Matei Says:

    So excited I found this article as it made things much qcikuer!