By Your Request: Query Success Stories and Why They Were Successful — AoR Ladies

Recently I asked you, our readers, what you wanted to see. The answer I received was about querying successfully, how to do it, and examples of successful queries. So today, I have the ladies here, at AOaR telling their stories.


Cassandra Page  Cass!

First off, I should warn you that the query letter contains a minor spoiler for the book. (There was also a bigger one in there, but I’ve deleted it from the example; I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to illustrate the point.)

There are a few reasons why I think this query was successful. I followed a basic when/then structure in the pitch (the first two paragraphs). When Isla’s life starts to spin off the rails, then she must discover the truth about who she is and what she can do. It also outlines the stakes: Isla’s father is in danger and needs rescuing. (He’s such a damsel in distress.)

If you compare these elements to the blurb, you’ll notice that they are very similar. That’s because the pitch to an agent or publisher serves much the same purpose as a pitch to a reader: you want to catch their attention.

The third paragraph provides the detail of the book – genre, word count, target audience. Since I was looking for a publisher that would ideally take on the entire trilogy, I also mentioned that book two was done.


Seventeen-year-old Isla only agrees to participate in a Halloween party séance because she wants to impress a guy. She certainly doesn’t think anything will happen when they try to contact her mother, who died giving birth to Isla. But the séance receives a chilling reply: she is not dead.

Isla is reluctant to upset her father by prying into the family history he never discusses. However, after her birthday she discovers she can no longer abide the touch of iron, and she begins to draw supernatural attention—forcing her to confront her past. The truth shocks her. Her mother is an aosidhe, a fae race known for its arrogance and cruelty. When her father is attacked, elf shot by an unknown aosidhe, Isla must overcome her self-doubt, and disquiet at her new abilities, to save him.

ISLA’S INHERITANCE is a 74,000-word urban fantasy set in metropolitan Australia, and is aimed at a young adult audience—particularly teenage girls who enjoy paranormal fiction. It is the first book in a trilogy; the second book is also complete.


Isla was content to let her father keep his secrets, but now she can’t stand the touch of iron and her dreams are developing a life of their own. She must discover the truth — before it’s too late.

Seventeen-year-old Isla Blackman only agrees to participate in a Halloween party séance because Dominic, an old crush, wants to. She is sure nothing will happen when they try to contact the spirit of her mother. But the séance receives a chilling reply.


Isla doesn’t want to upset her father by prying into the family history he never discusses. When the mysterious and unearthly Jack offers to help her discover the truth, Isla must master her new abilities to protect her loved ones from enemies she never knew existed.


Thanks, Cass! I think this is a great example of a classic When/Then style and how keeping it simple works. Sometimes I think we over complicate things, when using a tried a proved method works perfectly. You can now purchase Isla’s Inheritance, and the next books will come soon, so keep an eye out for them.


10153983_10154138536485512_6541138840832039677_nLauren K. McKellar,
Finding Home
When it came to querying my book, Finding Home, I did it in two rounds. The first time I sent out query letter after query letter, targeting agents and some big publishers, as well as a few smaller presses. I had no bites, and felt pretty disheartened about the whole thing. This was the first novel I’d completed in a about five years, so I was very emotionally invested.
Then I wrote a second novel. A novel that was far better in terms of craft, because in between books one and two, I studied. I scoured the Internet for blog posts on craft, I pored over books on technique and I read, read like a demon to absorb as much information as I could.Finding Home
I went back to book one. I edited it, worked on some of the things I was now hideously embarrassed about. I also focused on social media. I became active on twitter and developed a Facebook page, as well as starting a group blog.
Then, finally, the big one — I changed the name of the book. Finding Home was originally called Losing It. Around the time of me querying Finding Home the first session, a popular New Adult title named Losing It had been released, and even though I loved my original name, coming back in to a second round of queries, I felt the need to swap titles to something fresher that wouldn’t conflict with the hype of the moment.
This time, I queried to a lot of digital publishers and some smaller presses. My query letter was updated to include more facts and figures; less flowery ‘This book will make you feel …’ more ‘I have XX social media followers, and am a member of these groups’, as well as updating my synopsis to recount everything that happens in the book.
Then, the amazing happened. I got a letter of acceptance from a small publisher in America. I was very excited by this, and started negotiating the deal.
Then, something even more exciting happened. Harlequin Australia’s digital-first imprint, Escape Publishing, offered me a contract. And, because I’m a little daft, I went back and forth with the lovely Kate for a while, checking she’d actually read it (because was she sure? Did she really want me?) and when I’d finally worked out it wasn’t a cruel prank, or an error on her behalf, I screamed YES at the top of my lungs.
I don’t know what specifically made that second round of queries work, but something must have.


Stacey Nash (3)Stacey!

I went through a few queries before I landed on the one that worked. I could tell the difference right away because this one got instant requests when the other version hadn’t. I think it worked because I stuck to the main goal, motivation, and conflict in the body of the query. Opening with character (Anamae) to give a sense of who the story was about, moving onto her motivation: Dad is the only family she has. Then the goal: she wants to return home, to her normal life. Conflict: The Collective kidnap her Dad and want her eliminated because she’s a threat to their secret. This method sets everything out nice and clearly for reader (in this case aquistions editor) to get a quick, concise feel for the story.

Then I used the final paragraph not only to give the details of the book – genre and word count – but also to explain what type of book it is through providing comparison titles. I’ve heard comp titles are how agents sell books to editors, and editors sell to the acquisition team. So using them, really helps give a clear understanding of where in the market a book would fit.


Anamae has very little to remember her mother by after she disappeared nine years ago. When she finds a brooch in a store that matches the pendant that belonged to her mother she buys it. The first time she wears them together she discovers they’re not ordinary pieces of jewellery – but technology that makes the wearer invisible. Triggering the jewellery’s true purpose attracts the attention of The Collective, a secret society sworn to suppress technology so advanced it could be straight from a science fiction movie. Anamae knows their secret, so now she’s at the top of their hit list.

Forced to go into hiding, she finds refuge with a group of rebel fighters. She just wants to return home, but The Collective erase her from her father’s mind and kidnap him, holding him for ransom in a bid to secure her surrender. Anamae must choose between helping the rebels and going on an almost certain suicide mission to save her father.

I am seeking publication for my YA Science Fiction novel, FORGET-ME-NOT. Complete at 77,000 words, I believe it would appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s CITY OF BONES. It is about a teenage girl’s journey of loss, and her discovery of a part of her world she didn’t realise existed. Yet, it impacts heavily on her everyday life. This story would also appeal to fans of Fox Network’s FRINGE. The secret society working to suppress the knowledge of advanced technology is similar to the Fringe Department in this TV show.

Collective Series, book 1 by Stacey Nash


Anamae is ForgetMeNot - resizeddrawn into a world which shatters everything she knew to be true.

Since her mother vanished nine years ago, Anamae and her father have shared a quiet life. But when Anamae discovers a brooch identical to her mother’s favorite pendant, she unknowingly invites a slew of trouble into their world. They’re not just jewellery, they’re part of a highly developed technology capable of cloaking the human form. Triggering the jewellery’s power attracts the attention of a secret society determined to confiscate the device – and silence everyone who is aware of its existence. Anamae knows too much, and now she’s Enemy Number One. She’s forced to leave her father behind when she’s taken in by a group determined to keep her safe. Here Anamae searches for answers about this hidden world. With her father kidnapped and her own life on the line, Anamae must decide if saving her dad is worth risking her new friends’ lives. No matter what she does, somebody is going to get hurt.


Author Website:



Not to beat my own drum, but I also thought I should share my own successful query, to give you plenty of examples of what works. I’m actually impressed I still have this!

My query for Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh:

To save her younger sisters from being taken to the cruel life of the palace, Naomi intervenes and gives herself to be a wife of the erratic Pharaoh. She is the oldest daughter of the direct line of Israel, and as her father’s favorite child, she is well-educated and knows she is the closest thing her people have to a princess.

In the palace, Naomi finds herself thrust into the intrigues of the royal family. She is savvy and bright, so the Great Queen Nefertiti perceives Naomi to be her greatest threat. But Naomi refuses to submit to Nefertiti’s physical and emotional abuse. Naomi becomes beloved by the Pharaoh, who declares that she will bear him his heir. Nefertiti, furious with jealousy, schemes to destroy Naomi and even brings her fidelity into question, which could cost Naomi her very life.

Naomi must play the deadly game carefully. She is in a silent battle of wills, and a struggle for who will one day inherit the crown. And when she does bear an heir, she must fight to protect him as well as herself from Nefertiti who is out for blood.

Based on actual people of the late eighteenth Egyptian Dynasty, KIYA: HOPE OF THE PHARAOH is a NA Historical Romance running at 87,000 words.

Kiya Hope of The Pharaoh Like Cass, my query looks similar in structure to the final blurb:

 When Naomi’s sisters are snatched up to be taken to be wives of the erratic Pharaoh, Akhenaten, she knows they won’t survive the palace, so she offers herself in their place. The fearsome Commander Horemheb sees her courage, and knows she is exactly what he is looking for…

 The Great Queen Nefertiti despises Naomi instantly, and strips her of her Hebrew lineage, including her name, which is changed to Kiya. Kiya allies herself with Horemheb, who pushes her to greatness and encourages her to make the Pharaoh fall in love with her. When Akhenaten declares Kiya will be the mother of his heir, Nefertiti, furious with jealousy, schemes to destroy Kiya.

 Kiya must play the deadly game carefully. She is in a silent battle of wills, and a struggle for who will one day inherit the crown. If she does bear an heir, she knows she will need to fight to protect him, as well as herself, from Nefertiti who is out for blood.

 In fact, the last paragraph is almost word for word. But there are a few key differences.

When/Then: My query, again like Cass’, is based on a when then structure. Her sisters are about to be abducted, so she saves them. It shows the event that sets the course for the rest of the novel. It also serves as the hook.

Hook/Body/Stakes: The query also takes on this typical form. The first sentence is the hook, then the character is introduced and what she is faced with during the novel. Then it finishes with something that will entice the reader to keep reading and make them curious enough to see how the character deals with the stakes they’re faced with.

As you can see, these examples kept the query simple, direct, and succinct, using tried and proved structures.

Katie Teller

Katie Teller is a writer of NA fiction. Her debut, Kiya: Hope of the Pharaoh, is now available. You can find out more about Katie, the Kiya trilogy, and her other books on twitterfacebook or at her own blog.



  1. Love these success stories and being the editor that landed Cass and almost Lauren, I offer a round of applause to all of you. It is a tough business and sometimes getting a story picked is just luck. Your story might be wonderful, hands down the best but if the idea is similar to something they have, often they don’t pick it up. I’ve ran into this, as well as, several of my author friends. My advice, chin up and keep on keeping! This is your dream and it will get realized! (sorry, I do know that the Aussies like to spell things differently!!!)



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