Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

PRETTY AMY Original Query Letter AND Query Tips!

on June 13, 2012
So now that my book has been out for a month, I have some time to breathe.  But instead of spending that time breathing, I want to spend it helping other writers get agents and publishing contracts. I know HOW HARD it is. I know how IMPOSSIBLE it seems. How rejection becomes what you expect. How you wonder if anyone will ever get what the hell you are trying to do. Well, it can happen.
PRETTY AMY was the little book that could and here is the query letter that got her there.
But before we start here are some tips on Querying.

1. Know what a query letter needs to look like. If you don’t know, this is key, get every book you can from the library on how to write query letters and read them- ALL OF THEM. Writing a query is not something that comes naturally. You need to learn how they work and what they need to include to make sure an agent takes you seriously.

2. Have someone who has NOT read your book read your query letter. They can tell you if it makes sense.

3. Have someone who has read your book read your query letter. They can tell you if you are leaving anything important out.

4. Re-write your query letter, over and over if you have to. I rewrote the one below probably 15-20 times. Why? Because no one will read your amazing book if you have a crap query letter.

5. Send queries out in bunches- 20 at a time. If you are sending 1 at a time, you will be waiting forever.

6. Send to your second-choice agents first. Why? To test your query. If it isn’t good and you send it to your first-choice agent, you just lost your one chance with them.

7. Address queries and send them out to one agent at a time. You might query 20 agents a day, but don’t bcc them on one email. They will delete it before they even read it.

8. Don’t nudge unless it has been an un-Godly long time. However long you think it will take for an agent to get back to you it will probably take longer, a lot longer.

9. Post your query letter to Absolute ‘s Query Letter Hell. People you don’t know will tell you if your query is ready or not. (I don’t want to out anyone, but I know for a fact that NYT bestsellers have posted to this site seeking advice before they were published. So guess what? There is no shame in admitting you don’t know what the hell you are doing.)

10. Keep querying. Keep writing. Keep querying. It is HARD to find an agent. Rejection is the name of the game, until it’s not.

Okay without further ado, the query that got me my agent.

Everyone thinks Amy Fleishman has an attitude problem. And why wouldn’t she?
She’s had to deal with a mother whose estimation of parenting could be a mental disorder, a father who cares more about her teeth than the rest of her, a face that she wishes she could order different parts for like her school yearbook was a menu, and a great uncle who also happens to be her gynecologist, and that was before she got arrested.
 It would have been bad enough if it hadn’t happened on prom night. Pulled over with her best friends Lila and Cassie, after Lila lamented about losing their dates and being all dressed up with no place to go, the first thought in Amy’s head was not that she had been caught, but that the fact she had been stood up for her prom would now be a part of the public record.
Thrown into a cell in her dress and heels and into a situation she never expected my 57,000 word-length YA fiction manuscript, Pretty Amy, takes us on Amy’s unwelcome crossover from delinquent to defendant, from best friend to public enemy.
Walking downstairs the morning following her arrest, thankful to be home after being bailed out by her dutiful dentist father, Amy is looking forward to a cup of coffee and some quiet, but her life is no Folgers commercial. Amy finds her mother waiting for her at the kitchen table with more bad news. Being arrested is just the beginning. Now, she’ll have to do something about it.
Required to get a job to pay for a lawyer aptly named Dick, who wishes he were a stand-up comedian, Amy applies for work at her local cigarette depository, convenient store Gas-N-Go. Managed by well-meaning, religious zealot Connor, she deals with his unwelcome sermons by tuning him out and comparing her life before and after the arrest. Before, immense and filled with possibilities, after small enough to fit into a Tupperware container like week old leftovers.
When Dick forces her to cut all contact with Cassie and Lila, go to voluntary community service and meet with therapist Daniel twice a week, who further implores her to prove to him why she isn’t just like every other rebellious teenager in the world, Amy wonders if juvenile detention might be better.
That is until her arraignment, where being convicted becomes a tangible reality. Naively, Amy thinks there is no way she can spend a year waiting for freedom, if she can’t last five minutes waiting for a latte.
But the possibility of being imprisoned becomes the least of her problems, when she is faced with making the toughest decision of her life, saving herself by turning on her best friends and sending them away, or standing by them and being convicted.
Reminiscent of “Youth in Revolt”, Pretty Amy is the story of Amy Fleishman, struggling to believe she is a beautiful and deserving person, even though she has succeeded in teaching her pet parakeet to echo those words. An edgy, hilarious look at a prom night arrest and the girl left in its wake, Pretty Amy presents a fresh female voice in young adult fiction, describing drug use, self-esteem struggles, gastrointestinal problems, broken friendships and broken teeth with irreverence, cynicism and ultimately substance.
 I received my MFA in Fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University and was granted a year-long fellowship during my studies there as well as a summer fellowship from the Squaw Valley Community of Write. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please be in touch should you want to request the completed manuscript.

Lisa Burstein

So there it is. The book when it was published ended up being 75,000 words and added 2 new characters (hot boys of course ;)) based on editorial feedback. But the letter above was enough to open doors. The letter above got it in front of an editor who liked it enough to ask me to add two new characters so she could read it again. That is really all you need. The “right” door to open, with the “right” person waiting for you on the other side. Good luck!

Please feel free to post questions or comments below! I am also having a contest to celebrate PRETTY AMY being 1 month old, where you can win either a 3-chapter critique from me or my editor Stacy Cantor Abrams, or my agent Susan Finesman. Someone recently paid $335 in an auction for a critique from Stacy and my agent has won an Emmy, so come on enter!

Get the entry details here!

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Read the first chapter here

30 responses to “PRETTY AMY Original Query Letter AND Query Tips!

  1. Candice says:

    Amazing query letter, Lisa! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten my own query letter; probably harder than writing the entire manuscript! Thanks for sharing and so happy that Pretty Amy is doing so well!

  2. shirley fin says:

    Did you really include this sentence in your query letter? It’s all wrong gramatically and also doesn’t really make sense.

    Thrown into a cell in her dress and heels and into a situation she never expected my 57,000 word-length YA fiction manuscript, Pretty Amy, takes us on Amy’s unwelcome crossover from delinquent to defendant, from best friend to public enemy.

  3. Megan says:

    Love your letter! How long did it take for you to hear back from your agent?

    • well, this is so not typical and my agent even said it, but within hours of her reading the query and first three chapters I had a request for the full manuscript- she read that in 24 hours and offered representation- she even said, this has to be the world record for fastest agent read! 🙂

      • Megan says:

        Oh wow! That is a quick response. And makes a million questions pop up in my head but I will refrain from playing 20 questions on your blog comments 🙂

  4. Heather says:

    Yay, I love reading successful queries or “how I got an agent” stories, even though I’m a while off querying myself 🙂 I was just wondering, is this query longer than average? I thought they were supposed to be around 250 words, but this looks double that. Or does the length just depend on each agent’s personal preference?

    • i have read one page- that is the length of this single spaced. 250 words seems very short. I never heard complaints on this being too long and actually I had another personalized paragraph that I removed when I posted it here! 🙂

  5. Eleni says:

    Your query letter isn’t what I expected, but I see why it works! Thanks for sharing it! I’ve always wanted to see successfully published author’s query letters looked like. Thank you!

  6. Great Query & love the tips! Thanks for posting this! 🙂

  7. Melissa West says:

    Love that you’re doing this, Lisa! My query was actually only 180 words. 🙂

    • wow- i guess MINE IS LONG- for those that don’t know- Melissa is the author of the upcoming GRAVITY and wrote her own successful query, at 1/4 of the length of mine LOL

  8. susan says:

    Really great advice! Lisa caught my attention because she was funny. Her “voice” was laugh out loud funny. The one shred of advice I would add is: be less concerned about chronology and hitting all the beats of your story… is not what you say but how you say it. Besides, no one will EVER remember if the manuscript you deliver is exactly like the query. Sacrifice accuracy for intimacy–make a connection!
    Lisa’s Agent

  9. Wow! Can you write my query letter for me when I’m done? 😀 Even though I’m more of a fantasy/SF/paranormal reader, that letter makes me want to read your book. Good job and thanks for sharing. 😀

  10. Kel says:

    I’m in query letter hell right now! I’ve rewritten that thing SO MANY times and it feels like I’m just treading water. I’ve got people critiquing it at ACQ (and will check out your link as well), and I’m getting good feedback. Seeing yours makes me wonder if I need to scratch what I’ve got an start over again. Congrats on getting published! There is hope =)

  11. Shy Amy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this and your story with us! I’m a yet-to-be-published author and really appreciate you putting yourself out there. And, I don’t really read YA books, but I’m reconsidering, starting with Pretty Amy.

  12. Sara says:

    Wow! This is *so* cool! Thank you very much for sharing your query with us! I absolutely loved getting a behind-the-scenes peek at what your process was. Thank you too for all your generous advice and encouragement.

    I think what I’m taking most from this (both your post and your agent’s comments) is that, as you said, it just has to open the “right” door with the “right” person on the other side. There’s something really comforting about that. As aspiring authors slogging through the process, you can really get spun up about the “rules” (and there are so many! And they’re often conflicting! It all depends on which blogs and websites you’re reading! Argh!) The important thing is to convey your voice and your style and then to wait until you find someone who gets that and wants to work with you.

    I guess it’s like dating 🙂

  13. Tanis Mallow says:

    Thanks for sharing. (And gotta disagree, writing query letters is tough but writing synopses is pure torture). Thanks, too, to your agent for offering up a critique.

  14. Peter Hogenkamp says:

    Congrats and thanks for posting your query! I have a question: Did your agent ask for revisions prior to signing you? Thanks, Peter

  15. Cocktails of History and Prose says:

    Thanks for posting your query. It’s nice to read one that caught the eye of an actual agent. Everything I keep seeing on the internet is what not to do. Congratulations on your success with Pretty Amy. Now…I should probably get to writing that query letter I’ve been dreading….

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your query letter. I am in this process with my first novel. I wish so badly I had queried my second or third favorite agents first! I love the advice and plan on submitting my query to the online critique forums you suggested.

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