I was so wildly excited when Tom Ryan’s query hit my inbox. I’d read some of his books with Orca (Way to Go and Tag Along are great, please scoop them up!), and at the time, I had recently read Caleb Roehrig’s masterful debut Last Seen Leaving. I’d been tweeting plenty about wanting to read more LGBTQ+ YA thrillers, and well… along came Tom.
I inhaled Keep This To Yourself (originally titled Somebody’s Watching Me), it was dark and twisty, with a fierce voice and a ton of heart. And it’ll be out with Albert Whitman on May 21st.
With that beautiful book on its way, I wanted to share Tom’s original query for the novel, in hopes that you’ll be able to learn something from it.
And if it’s helpful, please consider pre-ordering Keep This To Yourself. It supports both the writer and you know, his agent that writes these helpful posts and all that. Tom has a great pre-order campaign going on where you can get signed bookplates and some very fancy comic book art from the iconic Cat Staggs!
Let’s check that query out!
Dear Mr. Smith,
In light of the fact that you’re looking for LGBTQ YA, I'd like to submit for your consideration my novel Somebody’s Watching Me, a 65,000 word psychological thriller for young adults, with a queer protagonist. Somebody’s Watching Me will appeal to fans of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and Rian Johnson’s Brick.
It’s been a year since the Catalogue Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.
Like everyone else in town, eighteen year old Mac Bell is trying hard to put that horrible summer behind him - easier said than done considering Mac’s best friend Paul was the murderer’s final victim. With high school finally in the rear view mirror, just one last summer stands between Mac and freedom from Camera Cove and its awful memories.
When a cryptic message from Paul appears from beyond the grave, suggesting that he’d been trying to solve the case on his own before he died, Mac finds himself unwillingly drawn back into the mystery he wants so desperately to forget. As he attempts to pick up the pieces of Paul’s investigation, Mac begins to suspect that the murderer might not have been a random drifter after all, and nobody - not friends, neighbours or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case - is beyond suspicion.
As a hurricane bears down on Camera Cove, and with the rising suspicion that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Paul, while scrambling to uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.
Since 2012, I have published two novels for young adults, and two for middle graders. My books have been positively reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Voya, and School Library Journal, among others. I have been twice nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s “White Pine” award, two of my books have been named to the ALA’s “Rainbow List,” and both of my most recent releases were Junior Library Guild Selections. My middle grade title, Big Time, has been published in German, Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish. In 2013, I contributed an essay to the non-fiction collection Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves. More information about my books, including reviews, awards, and other distinctions, can be found on my website: www.tomryanauthor.com.
Although I have been publishing steadily since 2012, this is my first time seeking representation. Thank you for taking the time to read my query.
Doesn’t that make you want to read this? Hell yes it does.
One wild thing about the way Tom described the book… is how much of his query ended up being part of the book’s actual jacket copy. That’s how good his faux-jacket-copy part of this query was. It ended up being the REAL jacket copy.
I’m not saying your query letter’s section that digs into the book needs to be that perfect. We can’t all be Tom. But it’s a great example of doing it flawlessly.
Let’s breakdown that query, according to the “hook, book, cook” format.
Hook: In his opening bit, he dishes the word count, the title, the category, and comp titles, all in one sentence. He even has a little bit of personal splash, as he knew what I was looking for. Now, remember, you’re not always going to be able to find specific things to address an agent with, when it comes to making that personal connection. If you can make one, great. If you can’t, it’s not the end of the world.
Book: Perfect jacket copy is perfect. We get the plot, the motivation, the stakes.
Cook: So, Tom was already a well-published author before he came my way. He digs into that, and if you’re a published author, you should too! But don’t worry if you don’t have a long bio of publishing credits. Saying something as simple as “when I’m not busy writing, I can be found…” what? Playing video games. Hanging with my corgi. Whatever the case is. Show us a little something about you.
And that’s another example of perfect pitch.
Be sure to scoop up Keep This To Yourself. It’s out with Albert Whitman on May 21st.