The Query Wars: An author and agent analysis of a query that worked!

donna-of-the-dead-mockup-HHi, guys!! I’m delighted to welcome amazing author Alison Kemper and her amazing agent Kristin Miller-Vincent of D4E0 Literary Agency with an analysis of Alison’s original query for Donna of the Dead. You can definitely say that this query worked. Alison’s book was just released by Entangled Publishing in March!

Without further adieu, take it away, Alison and Kristin!

The Query:

Dear Ms. Miller:

I read on your “Wish List” that you are seeking non-gory horror novels, and thought you might be interested in DONNA OF THE DEAD, my lighthearted zombie romance for the young adult market.

When most people hear creepy, disembodied voices, they think they’re going crazy. But when fifteen-year-old Donna Pierce hears them, she knows she’s in danger. Thanks to their warnings, Donna and her best friend Deke narrowly escape a zombie-infested cruise ship—but they have to leave their parents behind.

By the time they reach their hometown, the worldwide Zompocalypse is in full swing. They seek refuge in their high school with thirty other survivors—including Lance, the hottie Donna has been crushing on since fifth grade. With the undead lurking outside, and no place to take a shower inside, it seems like the last place to start a romance, but Donna and Lance can’t fight their growing attraction. If Deke-the-geek would stop acting like a jealous freak, the end of the world might just be perfect.

When Lance bites Donna, she discovers he is a zombie in disguise—sent to kill her, no less. It turns out those voices have a lot to say—Donna is immune to the virus, and might possibly be the key to survival of the human race.

I have master’s degrees in English and library science, and currently work as a librarian for young adults. I have included the first five pages of the novel, and would be thrilled to provide the completed 45,000-word manuscript at your request. I sincerely thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Alison Kemper


I could tell I was getting close. After weeks of form rejections and non-responses, my query was finally receiving requests. For partials. Then fulls. At the very least, agents were sending personalized rejections with advice or offers to submit other projects.

It took long enough! My query letter went through seventeen incarnations. Things changed once I began crafting individual letters for each agent. After all, I researched everyone I queried, making sure we’d be a good fit—that they repped what I was writing, that they were passionate about young adult lit. Why not put that info to good use? I’d start each query with a line or two letting the agent know I’d checked their website/blog or sales on Publishers Marketplace—that I wasn’t just mass mailing the same query to 256 agents in one fell swoop. Almost immediately, my inbox lit up with requests.

I found Kristin through Chuck Sambuchino’s “New Agent Alert” in Writer’s Digest. Her Wish List included “non-gory horror” and her bio named her as a co-founder of my favorite YA book blog. Score! When I sent the query, I struggled with those first few lines, wanting her know that while I’d written a zombie novel, it was “non-gory” and “lighthearted” (words I hoped translated to “different than the gazillion other zombie novels out there”). Lucky for me, she picked up on the clues and made the request. I’ll never forget her “Dear Alison, I’m intrigued!” reply. I screamed so loud, I probably startled the inmates at the prison down the road.



A well-written query always catches my attention. Alison’s is the perfect length and did a great job of introducing the main characters and the main conflict using a voice that I loved immediately. To begin with, it’s a zompocalypse . . . on a cruise ship. Instant tension because there’s nowhere to run! But also instant humor because, let’s face it, cruise ships are funny. Zombies on the Love Boat.

Further into the query, this line in particular is such a win: If Deke-the-geek would stop acting like a jealous freak, the end of the world might just be perfect. Why is it so fabulous? Because it rhymes, it’s breezy and it’s so unexpected to hear that hey, the end of the world might not be so bad as long as the hottie you’ve been crushing on is beside you. Ultimately, it’s so, so voicey. Donna’s personality dances off the page and because the voice is so breezy and almost flippant, I knew this character was going to go through some serious growth during this story, especially as a classic “chosen one” character.

The query captured my attention, so I read on. Alison included the first few pages of her story and, as I was so glad to see, that great voice was there from page one. Donna is a wonderfully authentic teen—the girl you totally want to hang out with. The story was so different from the other zombie books I’d read so far, but still full of action and tension and, sure, some body parts falling off. Knowing that zombies were a very tough sell at the time, I’d hoped the humor was enough to set this book apart. It was for me. I found myself actually laughing out loud at several scenes in the book and I know writing truly funny stuff is hard. But Alison is so good at it and YA will be enriched with a voice like hers.

Donna of the Dead is fun and smart and I can’t wait for everyone to read it!


Alison Kemper grew up in South Florida, the only girl on a street with eleven boys. She spent most of her childhood paddling a canoe through neighborhood canals and looking for adventure. She usually found it. Sometimes the police were involved. And large dogs. And one time, a very territorial snake. Now that she’s grown up, she lives in North Carolina and writes books. The books often include girls having adventures. With boys. Cute boys. And cute dogs too. But no cute snakes. Never cute snakes.

Her debut novel, Donna of the Dead, will be published by Entangled Teen in 2014 and followed by two companion books in the series. She loves to meet new people and talk books, so send her a friend request or connect with her on Twitter and Instagram. Alison’s website can be found at

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