if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

A Very Special About My Query Post

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!!

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