• Jennifer Iacopelli

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

In August of 2018, my agent had a few editorial suggestions for my most recent manuscript, but even as I made those changes, we were both pretty sure that the manuscript was ready for an editor’s vision.


We went on submission - or on sub, as the industry calls it - in the middle of September 2018 and the emotional dichotomy of that time was striking. I was confident because I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that it was the best thing I’d ever written, but I was also terrified because I hadn’t been on submission for more than six years and there’s never any telling how long it will take or what the ultimate response will be.


Also, there was the fear that we were just too late, pitching a book less than two years before it would need to be released (ah, time sensitive manuscripts are tricky things!)


Those fears turned out to be wholly unfounded.


Nine days later, we heard back from Julie Rosenberg at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Random House. She wanted to speak to me regarding the manuscript.

The call with Julie was phenomenal. One of the things I really concern myself with while writing is bringing authority to the plot and Julie and I were so on the same page there. She’s a huge gymnastics fan and was dedicated to maintaining realism in the portrayal of the sport while also making it as accessible as possible for readers who might be less familiar with (or utterly confused by) the skills and the scores and the format of competition. The rest of her suggestions made absolute sense and one major change she wanted was so spot on it actually made me annoyed with myself that I hadn’t thought of them before.


I was so excited after the call, but she hadn’t offered yet so it was time for more waiting, which honestly, even though it was perhaps the shortest wait of my entire publishing career, those eight days felt like eight years. In the meantime, two other editors requested phone calls. Both calls went great, but my mind kept flitting back to the call with Julie because I knew that I wanted to work with someone who truly understood what I set out to accomplish with the book.


It was just a few days later that Julie sent her offer and I wanted to call my agent back immediately and scream, “YES, I ACCEPT!” which is why I have an agent because she is the voice of reason in the face of my enthusiastic insanity. We waited a few more days and another offer came in, which meant one of those words that you hear whispered among authors, an auction. My agent set a deadline and then...more waiting. Both editors had until the end of the week to come back with their best offer.


By Friday, it was time to choose and I didn’t hesitate.


And now, as you probably know, BREAK THE FALL, a book set at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, following a gymnast's fierce and empowering competitive journey as she and her teammates find their voices after their coach is arrested for sexual assault, will be released in the Spring of 2020 with Penguin/Razorbill, edited by the incredible Julie Rosenberg.


Shortly thereafter Alice sold UK rights at auction to Polly Lyall-Grant Hodder Children’s (an imprint of Hachette Children’s Group) and German rights to Carina Mathern at HarperCollins Germany.





It all happened so fast, right? A US deal at auction after just a couple of weeks. A UK auction! Foreign rights! A total overnight success!


Except it didn’t and it wasn’t.


To truly understand exactly how I got my book deal, we have to rewind almost two years, to early 2017, when Macmillan acquired and then subsequently closed my first publisher, reverting my rights after two books of a three book deal and forcing me to either self-publish those titles or lose all the incredible reviews and sales rankings they’d accumulated over the years.


It was an interesting time in my life because while I was in the depths of despair as far as publishing was concerned, things at my day job as a high school librarian were going great. I’d been named a Technology Coordinator, I was appointed to a great position in my Teachers Union and I bought an apartment - no easy feat in the New York real estate market. To everyone in my “real life” things couldn’t be better, but in the back of my mind one thought was playing on a loop:


What if I never write another book?


It was a question I didn’t have an answer to yet, so I reached out to my agent at the time and we talked through my options. I could write the third book of the series that had been reverted or I could try something completely new. I honestly didn’t have the mental energy to write a book that had so much negativity attached to it, so I decided to go in a totally different direction.


I'd always wanted to write a gymnastics book, so I started with an outline and realized very quickly that it wouldn’t be enough to simply write out the plot beats chapter by chapter. I had to go back and world-build beyond that, two years of competitions leading up to and through the Olympic Games needed to be figured out and developed before I could even start to think about how it would all play out on the page.


There were spreadsheets. A lot of spreadsheets and the accompanying math. Lots of math. All the math. It was terrible, but eventually I got through it and was ready to outline. Thank goodness I did all that world-building because the outline was super easy and then when I sat down to write, it all just started to flow. I wrote the first third in a few weeks and made a New Year’s Resolution that no matter what, I would finish the manuscript and then whatever happened after that would just be gravy.


By March I was finished (I guess it’s time to be a little more ambitious with my New Year’s Resolutions) and I sent it to my agent. She sent me some feedback, which isn’t at all unusual. I agreed with her suggestions, went through a round of revision and sent it back to her and waited.


Then she sent me an email at the end of June. She didn't think she could sell it.

It was tough because I knew that if I wanted to traditionally publish the book I would have to leave my agent, who I very much respected and counted as a friend (and still do!). So, with my heartfelt thanks for being the first person in the industry to believe in me and my writing, I left. She wished me the best and that was that. An amicable separation, but a separation nonetheless. It's very much a reality of the industry, sometimes your vision for your career and your agent's vision won't match anymore and that's okay.


Okay, but also terrifying.


The summer of 2018 began, not with going on sub as I’d imagined, but searching for another literary agent (you can read all about that journey here), but I was fortunate enough, I think both through the strategy I used in querying and in the sheer luck you need in publishing sometimes to sign with my current agent, the phenomenal Alice Sutherland-Hawes of Madeleine Milburn Ltd. within three weeks of querying and from there, everything began to fall into place.


Remember, I was on sub for only about a month in total, but this was preceded by having to find a new agent (terrifying) and my publisher closing and having my rights reverted (heartbreaking). In 2017, I was at the lowest of the low. I thought my career was over. I didn’t know if I would ever write another book, let alone have one published again and by the end of 2018, I had signed with three different Big Five publishers, working with an agent and editors that truly understood the heart of what I set out to accomplish.


As Prince said, “Sometimes it takes years for a person to become an overnight success” and that’s definitely true in my case.


You can add BREAK THE FALL on Goodreads and know that if you’re thinking about quitting, don’t, just keep writing, just keep plugging away because you never know what twists and turns your road to publication will take!







Here we are in the third and final part of my Querying series. In the first part, I talked about how to cultivate a list of agents to query and in the second, how to write a query letter focusing on your pitch and your professionalism. Now, finally, we get to the good stuff, actually querying.


Before we dive headfirst into the different schools of thought on querying strategies, I want to address something I’ve seen over and over again with friends in headed into the trenches: fear.


I understand fear of rejection. It’s the most normal thing in the world, but here’s the thing: being afraid of querying is sill because you’ve already done the hard part. The hard part of publishing is finishing the manuscript. Writing a book is by far one of the most difficult things in the world to do. It’s something most people will never accomplish, though many aspire to it. And you did it. You climbed Everest. Sending some emails to see if other people might like it? That’s NOTHING to what you’ve already been through. So, spit in the face of that fear. You’ve got this!


Now, how to query?


The traditional advice is to send out queries in small batches to test the waters. If this is your first time in the query trenches, sending out queries in batches of five or ten seems to be the method most recommend you employ.


Querying, at first, often feels like trial and error because you really can’t know for sure if you’re doing it correctly until you start to get some feedback. However, publishing - especially querying - is known for having the speed of a sloth on it’s day off. So, how can you know if you’re querying properly, in a timely fashion, if no one responds.


This is where Querytracker comes in. If you delve into the “Data Explorer” section of an agent’s profile, it can give you a general idea of where an agent is in responding to their slush pile. So, while the advice varies on which agents you should query first, my recommendation is two fold: the first agents you should query are the ones that seem like a good fit beyond simply representing your category/genre (perhaps they mention something like your manuscript on their MSWL) and respond quickly. Odds are if you combine that criteria and your query is solid, you’ll get at least one or two partial/full requests in your batch of five to ten queries.


Now, here is the big caveat: remember that a FANTASTIC request rate is about 20%. That’s one request per five queries, but there is very little way to know which agents on your list are in that, hopefully, 20%. It could be that you simply queried five or ten agents that fall into the percentage of agents of “were never going to request your particular manuscript for whatever reason and it has nothing to do with you or your query.” If you receive nothing but rejections on your first batch of queries, don’t completely rewrite it yet: reach out to fellow writers, give it to someone with fresh eyes who hasn’t read either your query or manuscript before, post your query on the forums at QueryTracker and AbsoluteWrite or if you don’t mind spending a bit of money, hire an experienced editor for a query critique/edit.


All that being said, querying, especially if you are new to publishing, is very much a numbers game. If you’ve done your due diligence and researched all the agents out there that represent your category and genre, odds are you have a list of 50-100 agents, at least, that you could potentially query. I’ll use myself as an example, when I queried GAME. SET. MATCH. In 2012, I sent out 90 queries over the span of about a month and a half. Of those 90 queries, I received a partial or full manuscript request from 17 agents. When I queried #AngstyGymBook this past July, I queried 109 agents in about three weeks.


Fast? Yes. I call it the Kool Aid Man Method because it felt like this…





A few of my friends have dubbed it the, “Rip The Bandaid Off” Method and that feels pretty accurate.


I know what traditional querying wisdom says about this, but I just...disagree. If you’ve done your due diligence - which you have, right? You’ve polished your manuscript to within an inch of its life, your first chapters sing out to be loved, your query letter has a fantastic pitch that holds up the major tenets of storytelling (main character, conflict, stakes!) and is set aglow by your professionalism, then there is no reason not to test the waters at first to make sure all of that is true and then query EVERY. SINGLE. AGENT. ON. YOUR. LIST. AS. QUICKLY. AS. YOU. ARE. COMFORTABLE. DOING. SO. You’ve already done your research, you have a list of agents and access to their submission guidelines, so putting together the query letters for each agent should be a relatively simple process.


I want to remind you of something I said way back in the first part of this series: there is no way to really know whether or not you want to work with a particular agent, until you speak to that agent about your book and your career. And the only way to do that is to get your manuscript requested and read by enough agents that you can begin to speak to them about representation. Thus, my philosophy is to query any and all agents who, through the superficial lens of the internet, seem like they might be a good fit and then get as many of them to read as possible, as quickly as possible.


Do the thing.


DO. THE. THING.


Send your queries out into the world because there is an agent out there who is going to adore your manuscript as much as you do, who wants to champion it to publishers and celebrate with you as you conquer the industry together. And the sooner your lovely polished query and fantastic manuscript are out in the query trenches, the sooner all of that can happen.


When I parted ways with my first agent early last summer - while I still count her as a friend, we just didn’t share a vision for #AngstyGymBook - I followed literally every step in this series, but here’s a quick timeline for how it all played out.


I parted ways with my previous agent on July 3rd.


I gave myself through July 4th to be sad about it.


When I got home from a Independence Day BBQ, on the evening of the 4th, I logged back on to Querytracker and started making a list.


That process was done pretty quickly. Remember, I’ve been in the industry for six years. There were scores of people I could keep or eliminate at a glance.


Because I always write a pitch before I write a manuscript, I already had the first part of what would eventually become my query letter, so I sat down to write out the reasons I was looking for new representation and a very brief bio to introduce myself and my qualifications.


I had a query letter ready to go by the morning of July 5th.


And then...I queried.


Here’s a video to show you how it went!





Some other little tidbits of advice before I sign off! Remember, keep all your interactions with agents courteous and professional and once you have an offer, don’t forget to update everyone (yes, even agents who only have your query) to let them know someone wants you and your manuscript. It’s amazing how quickly the requests roll in once you have an offer!


Also, one of the things I did, which flouts tradition just slightly, was I reached out to authors represented by every agent who requested my full manuscript. Usually, the common practice is to wait until you have an offer, but every author out there with an agent has been where you’ve been and will understand why you might want to do your research before an offer is made. Every single author I reached out to responded almost immediately and talked about the pros and even sometimes cons (usually issues of personal preference: editorial vs. not, smaller agency vs. larger, etc.) of working with their agent.


Thanks for reading and happy querying!


  • Jennifer Iacopelli


There are approximately fifty-billion resources online and off to learn about querying and writing a query letter, but in Part 2 of my series, I’m here to break it down a little differently.


If you read my previous post in this series, you’ll know that I’m a fan of the mantra made famous in The Godfather, and then doubled down on in You’ve Got Mail, it’s not personal, it’s business. IT’S NOT PERSONAL. IT’S BUSINESS. Your query letter is a piece of business correspondence. Not only does it pitch your book, but it is your first opportunity to prove to a potential agent that you are a writer who takes their career seriously. You want an agent to come away with two impressions from your query letter: excited about your pitch and confident in your professionalism.


During my time in the query trenches, I had about a 20% request rate for my queries: 18.9% with GAME. SET. MATCH. and 22% for #AngstyGymBook, my most recent manuscript. Averaging out to about 20%, that’s the generally accepted percentage for a successful pitch. We’ll talk about rejection in the next part of the series, but seriously, they call baseball a game of failure because Hall of Fame players generally hit about .300. That’s a 30% success rate for the best players in the history of the game. Publishing is one of the toughest industries in the world. Thicken your skin, put your head down, and keep going with that goal in mind: about a 20% success rate on your queries. Of course it only takes one agent to love your query and manuscript enough, but this kind of rate improves your odds of finding said agent in the first place.


Here’s how to get it:


First, the pitch. In short, it’s a quick summary, very similar to a cover copy, that gives the agent a taste of your manuscript. It’s generally accepted that the pitch should be told in same way a movie trailer is made - in the third person (regardless of your manuscript’s point of view), hitting on the major characters, conflict and stakes, without giving away the ending.


Here are the pitch portions of my query letters:


Eighteen-year-old Indiana Gaffney, the newest athlete at the Outer Banks Tennis Academy, has a killer serve that scares the crap out of her opponents and a pretty face that has the sponsors seeing dollar signs. There’s just one problem. She hasn’t actually won anything yet.

The OBX Classic – a prestigious, invite-only tournament – is her chance to prove herself to everyone, especially her dad, who isn’t really sold on the whole “tennis as a legit life-path” idea. Winning means wildcard entries to all the major tournaments next season, a huge jump-start for her young career. If she loses – well, she won’t lose, not even to Jasmine Randazzo, daughter of tennis royalty, current U.S. Open Junior Champion and world-class bitch.

Indy’s confident, but not delusional. To beat Jasmine, she’ll need more than just a big serve and a bright smile. To up her game, she starts training with Penny Harrison, one of the best players in the world. Working with Penny – a rare friendly face at the ultra competitive academy – is great for her tennis, but means being around the Harrison brothers, a double dose of good looks and charm. Love may mean nothing in tennis, but in life, it’s not that simple. Not when one boy makes her laugh, but the other makes her pulse pound.

With her heart and her future on the line, there’s only one thing left to do: win.


(Side note: if you’ve read GAME. SET. MATCH. you’ll know just how much changed, for the better, from the manuscript I queried to the final product!)


Here’s the pitch from my most recent manuscript, which you may know as #AngstyGymBook from Twitter:


The only thing seventeen-year-old Audrey Lee dreams about is swinging her way to Olympic glory on the uneven bars. Nothing is going to stop her, not even the agony in her back that forced her out of the gym for a year and will bring her career to an end after the Games. Every spasm and ache will be worth it once she has that gold medal around her neck.


But none of her training prepares her for her coach being led away in handcuffs, accused by a fellow gymnast of the unthinkable. No one knows what to believe and Audrey's teammates, including her best friend, are at each other’s throats. With a new coach, Olympic officials and the media circling like vultures, only one person seems to understand, her new coach’s son, Leo, with his sparkling green eyes, cocky smile and Olympic dreams of his own.


As the Olympic torch closes in on Tokyo - and the end of her career along with it - Audrey has no idea who to trust, let alone what life holds after her final dismount. The only thing she can do is hope that, in the end, belief in herself and what’s left of her team, will be enough for gold.


In both pitches I follow the same basic format:

  • Paragraph 1: Main character: who is she and what does she want?

  • Paragraph 2: Conflict: what is keeping her from getting what she wants?

  • Paragraph 3: Stakes: What are the possible outcomes of the conflict?


If you cannot identify what your main character wants, what’s keeping them from getting it and what the stakes are if they do or don’t...then you need to revise your manuscript. Those are the basic tenets of storytelling and if they aren’t clear to you, it certainly will not be clear to a potential agent.


Obviously, the pitch should be told in your voice, so it doesn’t have to be an exact match of the above, but make sure: main character, conflict and stakes. (Writing tip: I’m a plotter, so before I even start writing a manuscript, I usually write a pitch to make sure I’ve got what I need for a story. And what do I need? A main character who wants something, a conflict and stakes!)


Okay, so you’ve got your pitch ready to go with your character that wants something, a conflict keeping them from it and the stakes, but that’s just one part of your query. The next part is almost as important because if you’ve hooked an agent with your pitch, you don’t want to lose them through a lack of professionalism.


Some people think the title, genre/category and word count are a part of their pitch, but I put it in the “professionalism” section of the query. Understanding your genre and category, falling within the range of appropriate word count and a mini-biography touting whatever credentials you have or even just a bit - a very little bit - of background on who you are and why you wrote the book, shows the agent that you’re a functional human being who understands how to communication in a professional manner with a potential business partner. The first time I queried I had very few credentials, but I did have a solid grasp on what was expected of a YA contemporary novel and noted that I’d actually looked at their agency’s submission guidelines and sent along the appropriate amount of materials.


Here’s the “professionalism” portion of my query for GAME. SET. MATCH.:


Told from three points of view, Indy, Jasmine and Penny, GAME. SET. MATCH. is a contemporary YA novel of 65,000 words. As per your submission guidelines, I have attached the [insert agency’s preferred amount of content/pages here].

As a high school librarian and coach, this project is the merger of my two great passions, young adult literature and sports. I am a proud member of YALitChat.org. I also host a blog and am active on Twitter and Facebook.


The second time I queried, I had a little bit of juice behind me - previously agented, previous sale and a few industry credentials that qualify me to write the story I wrote. I also explained, as quickly as possible, my publishing journey up to that point, but it follows the same basic format:


An 87,000 word YA novel, [Title redacted because it’s changing] is THE NOWHERE GIRLS meets MAKE IT OR BREAK IT.


I am in search of representation after amicably parting ways with [insert former agent and agency here]. I have two previously published novels, GAME. SET. MATCH. (2013) and LOSING AT LOVE. (2015). They were sold in 2012 to Coliloquy (which was then acquired by Vook and subsequently, Macmillan where it was renamed Pronoun, before closing entirely earlier this year. It was quite the journey). After that final closure, my rights were reverted and I self-published both titles.


After following gymnastics for years as a fan, I covered the Olympic Trials and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 for Fangirlish.com and have made several appearances on the famous gymnastics podcast, Gymcastic.


My sample pages are below, as requested. Thank you for your consideration.


In the second example, I used comp titles. In the first I didn’t. I do recommend having comps simply because it reinforces to the agent that you’ve done your research and understand where your book may fit in the market, but if - for whatever reason - you can’t come up with any, it won’t be a deal breaker if the agent is intrigued by your pitch and reassured by your professionalism.


There’s one more part of a query letter and I saved it for last because it’s only important to include if you actually have something to say. Personalization. I didn’t personalize either of the queries I sent to the agents I eventually signed with and going back through my records, it didn’t seem to have much impact one way or another in whether an agent requested a partial or a full. However, I don’t think it hurts a pitch and I know there are others who disagree with me. Personalize your query to the agent you’re querying, however, I say this with a caveat: only do so if you actually have something to say. For example, you spoke to them at a conference, they’ve requested materials from you before and you have a new manuscript to show them, you’ve interacted on twitter for years, your manuscript seems to have been written specifically for something they have on their manuscript wish list. If you don’t have anything like that to add, just leave it out. If the agent is interested in the manuscript’s concept and the writing in your pitch and the sample pages holds up against that concept, that will be enough.


So now we’re through two of the three majors parts of querying: finding agents to query and crafting a query letter! One more piece to the puzzle: the querying process itself!


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© 2020 by JENNIFER IACOPELLI