Editor Letter for GEARBREAKERS

What is the link between a good query letter, a pitch letter to editors, and the contract that should follow–in order to finalize the sale of the book?

See this blog post here.


Context for Zoe’s Query & My Pitch:

Zoe just broke her query letter versions for her debut, GEARBREAKERS (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2021).

See the three versions of her query letter in the post linked to above, including the version that she sent me, back in the fall.

The query prompted a request for the manuscript (the first paragraph gave me a heart attack, so tight and intentional was the craft, so evocative was the voice!), a read in three days, an offer of representation, some basic editorial work, my move to auction the project, and ultimately a sale to Macmillan outside a formal auction structure entirely.

I can’t wait to see this cover, and to see this gem of a novel in readers’ hands. We’ve got a good 1.75 years to go.

Some thoughts, to help put everything into context:

  1. There are some query letters that are so deeply immersive, evocative, and stunning that they make your jaw drop and shake your mind. I think Zoe’s was maybe 70-85% there, by the time that the third query letter went out, given a lot of world-building elements in the query letter as well as a lack of immediate clarity about the plot arc. (Here’s where just reading queries means, in my experience, for many agents, the loss of an opportunity to capture something great in execution at the level of the actual craft and novel; it’s why I prefer to start with the pages, as genius writing can’t be taught, but plot- and arc-related crafting can be, where a novel needs it.)
  2. At the same time, what I understood immediately reading the query letter and the pages was that there was something atypical about the structure of the novel, and this is also true: it’s not a typical protagonist v. antagonist set-up. I won’t break more, but the plot movement was unreal.
  3. This is, ultimately, I think, a difficult novel to pitch–for all of the reasons above–even when, in reading it, it all fits together seamlessly and stimulates the reader’s imagination. Zoe’s voice is also distinct, and here’s one example of a teen writing to teens that leaves its mark.
  4. When I went on submission, I wanted to do two things: (1) to break Zoe’s voice, and a sense of the maturity and intentionality in this 19-year-old’s grasp of her own crafting; and (2) to try to capture what is otherwise a rather complex plot set-up, without departing too far from Zoe’s own grasp and intent–in that, her hold on the novel’s world-building and set-up is so distinct, and particular, to depart would be to pitch a different novel entirely.
  5. What I didn’t include in the pitch is the Pacific Rim comparison, because, after having watched the film, given the query, having never seen it before, I ultimately voted that the book reads nothing like the feel of the film–even as both share in these multi-story monstrosities of robotic tech.

My Pitch to Editors:

The Windups were created to protect this nation.

I was created to protect this nation.

Godolia needed me, and so the Academy pulled me apart and put the Mods in the places where there was once breath and life and color, and called it my evolution. They said I should celebrate the day the sky bled.

In an age of mechanical deities puppeteered by a power-hungry nation, the sole defense against the onslaught of false gods is a ragtag group of renegades—the Gearbreakers—headed by the infamous Eris “The Frostbringer” Shindanai. Her mission: infiltrate any Windups—a charming nickname for hundred-foot-tall bionic nightmares that dare to cross her path—and take the atrocities apart from the inside.

Opposite Eris stands Sona Steelcrest—a full-fledged Windup Pilot, built to destroy for the nation. She is expected to be grateful for the wires shoved through her veins, the microchips implanted along her brain stem, and the cable sockets puckering the skin of her forearms.

Yet: Sona’s actual loyalties lie elsewhere. When she learns of a new model of Windups that could mean the end of the Gearbreakers, she seeks out the Frostbringer’s help.

For the first time, Sona has found something to fight for, but, more likely—in breaking one loyalty in exchange for another—something to die for.

As cinematic and vivid as novels come, GEARBREAKERS is a 134,000-word YA sci-fi that blew my mind—part super-deep friendship, part Hunger Games-esque intensity, with a pinch of Cinder [note for readers: Cinder was also published by Feiwel & Friends!] and a commentary on tech tossed in.

The author, Zoe Mikuta, hails from Boulder, CO, and is an 18-year old freshman at the University of Washington-Seattle, where she studies English. She is also a kickboxer, a skillset that makes for some kickass action.

This novel is Zoe’s debut, and demonstrates a profound depth of voice, world-building, and intensity-in-friendship—all that far surpass her age.

[Not serious, but still serious:

Please buy the novel now. You won’t regret it.

Love,

Dubz]


Also, think this, just more ragtag orphan-y and vibrant. Zoe writes with so much color.

How I Got My Agent ( + My Experience in the Query Trenches )

This is also one of my favorite form of posts to read. Excellent little gem, this one, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Zoe Hana Mikuta | YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

It’s jarring to me that I get to write one of these posts. When I was querying, I would spend hours upon hours pouring over these stories, and successfully heeded every single piece of their advice—I waited patiently, worried little, with a heart constantly brimming with the hope and knowledge that soon, the little ping of my inbox would signify the beginning of my one true dream: my characters filling up a real, gloriously physical book.

I am joking.

I waited patiently. I would consistently abuse the inbox refresh button.

I worried little. I was a nervous wreck in the query trenches. I legitimately got back into the habit of biting my nails.

A heart constantly brimming with hope? Maybe in the first week? For some reason, as the rejections came rolling in, my insecurities about my writing evolved into something akin to panic—maybe it was because I had no…

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Meet W.’s Clients: Zoe

Zoe Hana Mikuta


Find Zoe Online

Twitter | Blog

Meet Zoe

Zoe hails from Boulder, CO, and is a writer of young adult (YA) fiction. She is currently a student at the University of Washington-Seattle.

Her debut novel, Gearbreakers (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, 2021), is a YA sci-fi that tells the story of two groups-at-war: the Windups—a charming nickname for hundred-foot-tall bionic nightmares—who use their arsenal of detrimental skills to ensure that the nation of Godolia remains sealed to its place of power, and, on the other side, the Gearbreakers, who desire nothing but to break them, and the two girls—one of each—whose loyalties collide.

City/State or Province: Boulder, CO (Currently studying at University of Washington in Seattle)

Birthday (MM/DD): April 23rd

Describe your writing and how you came to work with Weronika: I have always wanted to work in YA sci-fi and fantasy, and aim to pack in as much action as possible. I love writing fight scenes, whether it involves fists or knives or magic, humans or robots or beasts, and I like my characters badass and morally ambiguous. I wrote a YA sci-fi in my senior year of high school and queried it the following summer—and opened Weronika’s response completely expecting yet another rejection. Instead, the magic words: Are you available for a call? I would’ve been ecstatic to communicate by carrier pigeon, at that point.

Favorite TV show: Either Brooklyn Nine-Nine or The Good Place

Favorite book of the year: Either Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo or Vicious by V.E. Schwab

If I could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive, fictional or historical), it would be: Nina Zenik, because I’m in love with her.

If I were to hang a quote or an art piece above my fireplace, it would be: I’d want a painting over my fireplace—I don’t know of what, but it would have to have lots of colors, all pastels that makes the room look happy.

Three things to ask me about: Anything about the Marvel movie franchise; my Hogwarts house; if I want the rest of your food

Most interesting idea I’ve encountered in the past three years: Definitely the plot of what I hope will be my debut – giant robots! Humans versus giant robots! Cyborg girls! Mecha sword fights!

Learn About Zoe’s Work

When did I write my first novel? What was it about, and what prompted it?

I started writing my first novel in 7th grade and finished in my sophomore year of high school. It was about the zombie apocalypse—which I’ve always have a fondness for, entertainment-wise—and by the end, it was around 170,000 words and absolutely horrible, and it will never see the light of day. However, I can see myself at some point in the future tearing it down to the plot bolts and starting fresh—I feel like writers are naturally nostalgic for their first big project.

If I could read books from any single imprint for the rest of my life, which imprint would it be?

Please don’t make me choose.

If there is any one advice that I’ve heard about writing fiction that has proven itself to be true, which piece of advice is it?

It’s a cliché, but you just have to keep at it. Especially during the editing process, when you notice all these cracks in your work, you have to push through that self-doubt and see it through to the end. It’s not just you who you owe this to—you owe it to your characters, too, the world you’ve created.

When and where during the day do I write? Lighting? Sound? Coffee, tea, other?

If I’m not at a coffee shop (with a caramel latte or an earl grey tea), I’ll usually be on my bed, stomach-down, with my arms thrown over a pillow and my computer open in front of me. When it’s warm outside, I’ll usually sit on my front deck with my feet kicked over the railing, laptop balanced on my knees, with my dog snoozing under my chair. I don’t usually like a lot of noise when I’m writing, except when I’m structuring fight scenes—then I put on something like The Frights to get my attitude right.

Plot or characters? Voice or prose?

A good story, of course, blends all four, but I had to choose, it’d be characters and voice. You can have a seemingly boring plot that can be made extraordinary by the way the characters perceive it, or you can have an extraordinary plot made boring by static characters. The appeal of three-dimensional characters is that they are subject to change in response to the adventures they go through—part of the reason to keep reading is to see the person they become in the end. As for voice, I feel like that’s what truly distinguishes one story from the other within the same genre. I love finding an author whose voice is recognizable across their works, as well as seeing that voice grow and refine over their career as they gain more and more experience—it’s like I’m ‘growing up’ with them.

Some News… — Elixir Club

That one time my #childprodigy sold her debut:

I cannot believe I am finally able to say this, but The Secret™ is Out: I’m going to be a published author!!! It’s been a long, nerve-racking, heart-wrenching journey, not yet over, but another step closer. My science fiction debut, GEARBREAKERS, my absolute heart, will be out 2021 with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. Get ready for […]

Some News… — Elixir Club

Editing Anecdote 1/?

Sometimes, editing is hard, tough, nitty gritty work―and there’s something about learning to write that is learned in a particular way through the process of craft-learning and -practicing.

Zoe Hana Mikuta | YA Science Fiction & Fantasy Author

A University of Washington ‘claim-to-fame’ is that no matter where someone is on campus, they are always two minutes away from a coffee shop. As such, a caffeine habit is slowly trickling into place. My dining account is emptying. I get whipped cream on every order and it’s the equivalent of eating sugar by the spoonful out of the bag. It’s terrible for me, and unbelievably great for me at the same time, since around mid-October I told myself I could only get coffee if I did something productive while drinking it.

The cold season was rolling in, too, so at that point, it was pretty much survival.

That’s how I did a large chunk of my revisions: sitting in UW’s Suzzallo library, mocha clasped in both hands, and my manuscript open in front of me. I have to admit, I had never done a rework on this scale before…

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Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club

It’s my joy to introduce the lovely Zoe Mikuta, a writer of YA sci-fi, whom I’d encourage you to follow online. See her blog debut here (via Take Breaks ! — Elixir Club):

I love the little breakthroughs that pop up during the writing process. It’ll usually go like this for me: I’ll be sitting in front of my computer for an hour plus, staring at the same blank page, forgetting the near entirety of the English language. I hate that little type line that flashes, too, disappearing […]