The actual query letter that landed me my agent.

Okay. I know you’ve all been waiting for this. This is the ACTUAL query letter I sent to Brianne Johnson of Writers House. She requested a partial based on this, then a full. Then, she passed my manuscript on to Michele Rubin of Writers House, who ended up signing me! I’ve deleted personal information and a few names, but otherwise, it is untouched.

May 29th, 2012

Dear Ms. Brianne Johnson,

I am seeking representation for my dark, contemporary YA novel, BELOW THE SURFACE. I chose to submit to you because in your Publisher’s Marketplace page you said you were looking for “beautiful, literary works that explore the coming-of-age theme.” I feel my novel embodies that description and may be a good fit for your list.

For Sammi Colton (16), going to high school in Portside, a small town on the shores of Lake Superior, is comparable to a painting by one of the old masters; dark, grim, and completely depressing. When her father leaves her family for his pregnant girlfriend, Sammi loses her creative spirit, her ability to paint, and her sense of self. Soon, an unlikely friendship develops with Kayla Ryan (16) who is the complete opposite of Sammi’s own dark personality. Under Kayla’s direction, Sammi takes on a new identity, complete with a set of pom-poms, parties with the popular kids, and a romance with Kayla’s brother, Austin (17). This new persona is a façade, spread over her like a suffocating, thick layer of paint, and Sammi soon realizes she must find the courage to scrape it away and discover who she truly is before she loses herself forever.

BELOW THE SURFACE is a 73,000 word contemporary YA novel that deals with the loss of Sammi’s father, the loss of her identity, and the loss of her whole world as Sammi tries to make herself into someone else, someone her father can love. In the end, Sammi must make a choice; do you change who you are for love, or do you learn to love yourself? I feel it would appeal to readers who loved Sarah Dessen’s LOCK AND KEY, Jandy Nelson’s THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, as well as Stephanie Perkins’ ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.

I have been writing for twelve years and have written several novels. My YA fantasy, DRIVE BACK THE DARKNESS, is scheduled to be published in September. I am currently working on a revise and resubmit request I received from a publisher for one of my romance novels. I have also developed a following through my blog, which details my daily life as a wife, mother, and aspiring writer. I have completed three years of my Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing. I have also worked with a critique group for five years, and worked with published author and University of ****** professor, ****** *****. Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.


Amy M. Newman

Mailing address


Phone number

Enc: first five pages

17 thoughts on “The actual query letter that landed me my agent.

  1. This is so interesting. Everything I’ve read about query letters is quite different from what got a response for you! I’m starting to think the most important thing about a query is to be yourself and introduce your work in a clear, concise way.

    Your letter is fantastic! 🙂

    • Hmmm. Interesting! Do you mind if I ask what you’ve read about query letters? I’m always interested in different approaches. I will say, however, that every single writing book I own (and I own a LOT!), says to write the query letter with that basic format…

      • Everything I’ve read outlines a much shorter letter. The last time I had my query letter critiqued (by a query letter forum) they told me cut it by half to about 150- 200 words. After reading your success story, I’m a little more encouraged to expand my letter.

      • Well, mine is longer than that. 🙂 Just under 350, I think. The format I’ve always gone by is a three paragraph letter, no more than one page. I’m pretty sure that is the standard. I’ve never heard a specific word count requirement, although in general, the shorter the better. I will say that I imagine that it’s pretty hard to get the idea of your story, plus your author bio, plus your greeting paragraph into only 150 words…

  2. Loved your letter! I really liked your voice and the easy breeziness of your style. I have been told by many that I need to cut my query letter down to around 150 words but I think I might keep mine around the 250 – 275 mark after reading your successful query. I guess it depends on being in the right place at the right time with the right publisher/agent. Congrats on your publishing contracts and thanks for sharing your journey with us.

    • Gosh! There’s another person who has heard the 150 word rule! I’m glad I never heard it before I started writing my query letter… Can I ask where everyone is hearing that? And why haven’t I heard it!??!?! 🙂

      • It’s all over the ‘professional’ boards. I’ve heard many agents speaking at seminars say they steer away from letters longer than 200 words. They want the query short and to the point. I think Nathan Bransford also had a post on his site some time back about the perfect-length query letter (don’t quote me on that). There are supposedly a lot of do’s and don’ts to writing a query, but I have to say, I’ve seen those ‘rules’ broken time and time again by new authors. I think the ticket is to be yourself and original and have a concise plot. The author has to know his/her story in a nutshell. It’s something I’ve yet to perfect.

      • Interesting. Are they talking about the entire actual query letter? Or just the description of your book? I’ve heard that word count for the blurb of the book…

        In any case, I wouldn’t put too much faith in those boards. In my opinion it’s always better to stick with the writing guides, agent guidelines (usually on their website), and trusted sources like Writers Digest.

        I’ve been writing for 13 years and querying for 6 of those. I’ve always kept my letters under one page, but didn’t stick to any sort of word count requirement, and I’ve never had a query letter that didn’t get a least a few requests from reputable agents.

        That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth! 🙂 Of course, you should do what you feel comfortable with.

  3. Amy I found my way here via Ayesha Schroders blog (hooray for reblogging). Thanks so much for posting your query – I love reading successful query letters (rather than the how to’s) because it got the desired result. Congratulations – I can see why they picked up your story. It sounds great!

  4. It’s always nice to see examples of a proper query letter. Thank you so much for sharing! I have ideas, of course, what turns agents off and what the general format is, but examples of the queries that are well written, and led to successful results are a little harder to come by. Also, congratulations!

  5. Pingback: 2013 Goals: May Status Report | C.B. Wentworth

  6. I’m preparing to query my first novel, and I have to tell you–this is one of the best queries I’ve seen! It flows well; it’s professional, it’s clear (so many queries lack clarity), and it pulled me in emotionally. I say forget the word count: make the words COUNT. I didn’t make it past the first round of the Amazon breakthrough novel contest, and I think it was because I listened to critiques from others on CreateSpace. Although well-intentioned, their advice steered me towards writing a shorter query, one that direly suffered from a lack of clarity! Agents NEED to know: “what’s this book about?”. If they can’t determine that, who can blame them for taking a pass? I thank you for it, and congratulate you. You were blessed with talent.

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