The Winning Query: Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places

Author Jennifer Niven has stopped by the share the query letter that landed her an agent for her New York Times bestseller All the Bright Places.

I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the unexpected death of my literary agent of fifteen years.  I’d been with John Ware from the very start of my career and never imagined we wouldn’t be working together for the entiretyjennifernivenSept2013 of it.

At the time of John’s death, I was scrambling to finish a book under contract to Penguin, and had planned to take some time off after finishing because I was feeling burned out. I began researching agents and asking colleagues for recommendations, at the same time I was pursued by agents who’d heard of John’s passing. I needed an idea to take out to prospective agents, so there was the matter of making time for a new project in the midst of writing the existing one. I thought I would buy myself time by sending out query letters to see if there would be any interest in a YA novel—then titled You Make Me Lovely—about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

The good news is that the agents I queried responded quickly, asking to read my book. The bad news was the book didn’t exist. The funny part of this is that in 1998, the first time I ever sent out query letters, I did the exact same thing—queried agents with a book idea that had yet to be written. You’d think, when it came time to query again, I would have learned my lesson.

(FYI I wrote All the Bright Places in six weeks.)

 And so, I present my query to my new agent, the incomparably lovely and brilliant Kerry Sparks (who happens to represent a dozen or so authors named Jennifer):


Dear Kerry Sparks:

I am writing to you because you represent Out of Reach, one of my favorite titles, and because my friend Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy glowingly sings your praises.

I’m the author of six published books, with number seven due from Penguin in 2014. As I wrap up that book and two YA proposals, I find myself in an unexpected situation: searching for a new literary agent in the wake of my longtime agent’s recent death.

You Make Me Lovely is a YA novel inspired by a younger me and a boy I once loved.

It’s the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

atbpTheodore Finch and Violet Markey take turns recounting their short, brilliant love and Finch’s short, brilliant life—and his suicide.  Seventeen-year-old Finch is fascinated by the deaths of other people, compiling lists of the poetic, the wasteful, and the just plain stupid. Seventeen-year-old Violet lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape their soul-numbing Midwestern town.

Each week, Finch thinks of a way to kill himself.  But something good, no matter how small, stops him. After every almost-death, he begins a new life and chooses a new self—preppy Finch, bad boy Finch, nerd Finch. It’s only with Violet that he can be himself, a weird, funny, lonely, live-out-loud person, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to start counting away the days and start living them.

As Violet’s world grows, Finch’s literally shrinks. When life becomes too much for him, he begins to seek smaller spaces where he feels safe:  his bedroom, his car, and, finally the one place he feels secure—his closet. Violet keeps his secrets from everyone—only to discover after his death that he kept secrets from her as well.

I have written two narrative nonfiction books, The Ice Master (Hyperion, 2000) and Ada Blackjack (Hyperion, 2003), a high school memoir entitled The Aqua Net Diaries (Simon & Schuster, 2010), and four historical novels: Velva Jean Learns to Drive (Plume, 2009), Velva Jean Learns to Fly (Plume, 2011), Becoming Clementine (Plume, 2012), and the forthcoming American Blonde (Plume, 2014). In addition to the first chapter of You Make Me Lovely, I’ve included a more detailed bio below.

Thank you so much for your consideration. If you would like to see a full synopsis and/or additional chapters, please let me know. I’m hoping you have room for one more Jennifer.

All my best,

Jennifer Niven


All the Bright Places is available now.

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