Example Query: Makiia Lucier

I've said it before, but I owe a lot to Sarah Goldberg. The same summer that she found the fabulously talented Mindee Arnett and Sara Polsky in my slush pile, she also found Makiia Lucier.

Now, historical YA is actually pretty tough. It's tough to get the teenage sensibility just right while also staying true to the historical time period. As a result, I was wary of historical YA. I wasn't opposed to it, but it wasn't something I was looking for either. For me to take on a historical project it would have to be something with amazing characters and really great plot and outstanding writing.

Then I got this query and Sarah said to me, "How are you feeling about YA historical...?" I took a look and told her I was feeling good about this one.

Here's the query:

Dear Ms. Townsend:

In the fall of 1918, Cleo Berry is completing her studies at St. Helen’s Hall, one of the oldest boarding schools in Portland, Oregon. When soldiers arrive at nearby Camp Lewis, they transport the Spanish Influenza, a mysterious strain of flu that strikes down young men and women with swift, shocking brutality.

Schools, churches, and theaters are shut down. Cleo disobeys her headmistress’s quarantine order, choosing to wait out the epidemic, and her family’s impending return, in the relative safety of their empty home. But it isn’t long before the Red Cross launches a plea for volunteers. For deeply personal reasons, Cleo finds she cannot ignore the call for help.

Her duties are clear-to search the neighborhoods and report cases of influenza to the grand auditorium, which has been transformed into an emergency hospital. There Cleo meets Lieutenant Edmund Parrish, a medical student who bears the permanent scars of war. In the coming weeks, the death toll mounts, and reality sets in. There is little help forthcoming from an overworked medical staff and a strained ambulance service. If Cleo is to help save lives, she must find the courage to navigate alone in a city turned ominous with fear.

A BEAUTIFUL AND DEATH STRUCK YEAR is a young adult historical novel, complete at 56,000 words.

My articles have appeared in the Portland Oregonian, Bookmarks Magazine, and Library Journal. I have a BA in journalism from the University of Oregon and an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I studied literature for children. Additionally, I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

I have attached my complete manuscript. Thank you for your consideration.

Makiia Lucier
Here's what I loved about it:

First Spanish Influenza! I love that this is a time period I haven't seen too many times before, but at the same time there's a high stakes backdrop. (And can I say that when I read this for the first time, I was constantly freaking out when someone sneezed next to me on the subway.

I also was really struck by the writing and pacing in this query. Makiia introduces the stakes (the flu that kills!) and then she sets up Cleo's personal experience with it in a way that gradually built the sense of urgency. I felt so grabbed by the "personal reasons" (why would she put herself in danger!?) and this Lieutenant with scars of war (I admit I sort of love a guy with emotion baggage--at least in books).

I read the manuscript and loved it. There were parts that made me weep and of course, Edmund is rather swoony, and Cleo...I just loved her.

I wasn't the only one. I sold this to Harcourt Childrens. They dropped the "Beautiful" from the title and the book comes out in March, and it's one of the ABA picks for New Voices. Here's where you can add it to goodreads.

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Liz Blocker said...

I love reading queries that work - and getting to hear why! It's really helpful, but it's also inspiring :) thank you!

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Anonymous said...

Feedback like this is always greatly appreciated by those working on their queries or about to send them out. After reading your response to Makiia, I'm excited to get mine to the right agent!

It also makes me wonder how personal we need the query to be.

Take care,