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Leigh Bardugo: From Query To Book Deal in 37 Days


Good Monday, everyone! I'm in a super good mood because I get to share another amazing success story with you today. Please welcome Leigh Bardugo to the blog! Make sure you’re holding onto your computer chair (or couch cushion!) - Leigh has an incredible story and some GREAT tips to share.


How does a first-time author go from query letter to three-book deal in just over a month? Luck, an amazing agent, and more luck.

After a a year of writing, research, revisions, and paralyzing bouts of self-doubt, I felt I had a manuscript that was ready for agents’ eyes. I wrote the best book that I could and did my best to query wisely. After that, the story belongs to the afore-mentioned amazing agent, Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey literary. Once she took over, I didn’t do much but keep my fingers crossed and avoid freaking out.

Here’s the tale of our wild ride, as well as a few tips that may have stacked the deck in my favor and that I hope will do the same for you.


Tip #1: Query in small batches.

Querying is so stressful that it’s tempting to just go with a shotgun blast, but I recommend sniper fire. Why?

Quality control. When you mail/email in bulk, you’re more at risk for making silly mistakes like misspelling a name.

Adaptability. You only get one shot with most agents and agencies. If you’re not getting the response you want, you have a chance to tweak your query and your sample pages before you’ve blown your way through your whole list.

Keeping it personal and up to date. EVERYONE tells you to personalize queries but this can be tough, so use every advantage. Small batch querying means that you can keep up on changes to submission requirements, newly posted sales, and blog updates.

I first saw Joanna’s profile here on Casey’s blog. That led me to Nancy Coffey Literary and then to Confessions from Suite 500 where Joanna blogs with two other agents. Jo is a self-confessed fantasy nerd and she’d written a post in which she waxed ecstatic over LOTR, so I knew she was a true high fantasy fan.

I queried Joanna on October 27, 2010. She requested a full later that same day.


I was standing in line to return our Halloween costumes when I got Joanna’s email telling me that THE GRISHA had caused her to miss her subway stop and that this was the epic fantasy she’d been waiting for. I can only describe the sound I made as something between a sob and a yelp.

“Are you okay?” asked the clerk at Valentino’s.

I don’t think it helped ease his concern when I turned to him with tear-filled eyes and declared, “I am AWESOME.”

Joanna and I spoke that night and she officially offered me representation.

Tip #2: Choose... wisely.

I asked for a week to consider Jo’s offer and to give a heads up to the other agents who had requested fulls. This is professional courtesy. Even if you think you know which agent you want, if you’re lucky enough (see above) to have more than one agent interested in your work, then at least give the others a chance to make their pitch. They may surprise you.

When you choose an agent, you essentially put your future into his or her hands. Joanna sent me an editorial letter that made it clear that she really got my characters and my story. (She also called me out on what I knew might be weak elements in my MS.) But in the end, it was her enthusiasm for my work and, honestly, the full on geek-out of that LOTR post. I knew that Jo would pitch THE GRISHA with a fan’s passion.


After I signed with Joanna, we went through a quick round of revisions. On November 12, we went out to editors.

Joanna warned me that we could have a wait ahead of us and I prepared myself. I would clean my office, start on my next project, bake a pie or twelve. But through some combination of timing, luck (see above), and Jo’s sparkle magic, editors started calling just a few days later. By the following week, we had our first offer.

Tip #3: Be prepared.

The calls I had with editors were great fun. I even chatted with one editor via gchat since she was traveling in France and Israel. (That was Noa Wheeler, the woman who would eventually become my editor.)

Mostly, we discussed writing, my career as a makeup artist and the inspiration for THE GRISHA. I got progressively better at these chats (relaxing, asking my own questions, not babbling about Russian folklore). Here are a few things to keep in mind when you get to this stage:

Be familiar with the imprint. Check out their online presence and their authors. Think about how your book might fit in with their other titles. This is also something you can ask about during your call.

Get used to talking about your book and yourself. If you’re a solitary sort like me, then you may not have had a chance to talk about your stories or your characters at length. I recommend practicing on your commute. One of my favorite things about the advent of cell phones is that no one looks at me like I’m crazy when I talk to myself anymore.

Take the chance to ask editors what elements of the manuscript might need work or if they have any major revisions in mind. This is not the time to debate plot points or character development, but you may get a better sense for how an editor relates to your work.


THE GRISHA went to auction on December 1. For the next three days, I lived on New York time as Joanna updated me on bids and walked me through the language of a deal memo.

On Friday, December 3, 2010, THE GRISHA sold to Holt Children’s/ Macmillan. Just 37 days after I queried Joanna, I had a three-book deal.

My debut novel will be published in Fall 2012. Now, all I can do is keep writing, pray that readers embrace my work the way that Joanna and Noa have, and hope that my luck holds. Fingers crossed.

Leigh Bardugo lives in Los Angeles. Her debut novel will be published by Holt Children's/Macmillan in 2012. Follow her on twitter (http://twitter.com/Lbardugo) or visit her shiny new blog at http://leighbardugo.wordpress.com.

Love this story!!! Congratulations Leigh and Joanna! I'm thrilled for you both and cannot WAIT to read THE GRISHA.


Carrie said...

What an inspiring and amazing journey! I love reading success stories like this, thanks for posting it and giving me a warm and fuzzy start to the week :)

Kate Evangelista said...

That's just jaw-dropping! I look forward to seeing your novel on shelves and getting my copy to read. :-) Congratulations!

Miranda Hardy said...

I really enjoyed reading this and I am very happy for Leigh.

Heather Kelly said...

I find these stories to be sooo inspiring!! Congrats, Leigh--now you and your book are on our radar!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

Casey, this is fantastic! Leigh, major Kudos to you and best of luck!

Ishta Mercurio said...

Um, WOW. What an inspiring story, and what helpful advice! I had no idea that an agented author would have an opportunity to chat with prospective editors before any contracts had been signed, but I guess it makes sense.

Thanks for this! I'll be referring back to it often.

Misty Waters said...

AMAZING story! So awesome.

Matthew MacNish said...

Wow. SO inspiring! Mostly I'm glad to hear that epic fantasy is still a viable genre. I love to read it but it never seems like enough of it gets published.

Erinn said...

Wow- that's amazing. And your advice is perfect! Thank you.

Kristin said...

Wowzers. Thanks for the great advice!

Leigh Bardugo said...

So glad you enjoyed the post and may have found it helpful. It was a joy to share.

And, yes! I think (hope) that epic fantasy is still a viable genre. I think the success of Cashore's GRACELING may have helped open doors for epic fantasy writers in YA.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Wow. Taking copious notes on this article. Way to go, Leigh! I'm following you on twitter and looking forward to your updates. :)

Unknown said...

What an inspiration! Great way to start the week! Congratulations Leigh on an incredible ride. I intend to continue to follow your adventure!

Anne R. Allen said...

This really happens! Thanks for the inspiring story.

Natalie Aguirre said...

What an inspiring story! Thanks for sharing. I love high fantasy too so it's great to know that your book is high fantasy and that Joanna loves high fantasy too.

I'll check out your blog. Keep us posted.

K. M. Walton said...

GO,LEIGH, GO! What a great story that is to read.

- From a fellow Apocalypsie ; )

Susan said...

WEEE!!! GO LEIGH!! Joanna (and Sara) did the same for me! I queried Jo Oct. 17, and got a full request that day and an offer 2 days later. Then we went on sub two weeks after I signed with her, and my book sold the next week!

Nancy Coffey Literary is the BEST, and I'm so happy we're agency sisters and Apocalypsies!!

Elizabeth Briggs said...

This is a great story and I can't wait to read the book!

Chris Phillips said...

wowzers, great story, great tips.

Christina Farley said...

Wow! This is amazing story! I love hearing the whole story.

Leigh Bardugo said...

Thanks guys!

(And big love to my fellow Apocalypsies!)

Unknown said...

Totally cool. Best of luck. I'll keep my eyes open for it.

Heather Zundel said...

I love stories like this. And great advice too. And you know you've got a good agent if they are squeeing about LOTR. ;)

Lisa Nowak said...

Wow, that's an impressive story.

Buffy Andrews said...

What an inspiring story and great tips. Pure awesomeness. Thanks for sharing.

Jenny Torres Sanchez said...

Holy cow! That is so AWESOME! Congratulations and much luck to you and THE GRISHA:)

Ghenet Myrthil said...

What an amazing success story! Congratulations, Leigh! And thanks for the tips. I'm not ready to query yet but will definitely keep them in mind.

Steve MC said...

If your queries were as clear, helpful, and entertaining as this post, it's obvious why you stood out.

But excerpts! Your blog needs excerpts! Okay, so the book's over a year from being published, but it sounds awesome and you definitely got us curious.

Liz Grace Davis said...

Your story gives me and so many other aspiring writers hope.

Martha Ramirez said...

Congrats! What an awesome story. I love hearing stories like this. Wishing you mnay more blessings!!

Lori W. said...

Thanks Casey and Leigh for sharing this story and for the tips! Congrats to Leigh! I'm an LOTR/fantasy fan, too, so I can't wait to check out Leigh's blog and see what GRISHA is about.

Jaela said...

Wow, thank you so much for sharing this! I am an avid fantasy fan and writer, though I haven't published a fantasy book yet. I wondered if any of these "fantasy nerd" types existed in the publishing world. I guess they do, and this blog post has eased my anxiety some. :)

I'll be looking for The Grisha!

Ammie @ domesticallyobsessed.com said...

I am sooooo happy you shared this story, Casey. Your site is a GOLDMINE for anyone who is trying to break into the writing business and this just goes to show how people can become published writers if they are careful and research agents likes/dislikes carefully.

I am due in June with baby #3, so that is my new deadline to have queries ready to shoot out while I'm on the OR table! LOL. It's silly, but I feel like a new baby coming is a good reason to set a deadline for myself!

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

So exciting! What a great story - thanks to Leigh and Casey for sharing it with us, and congratulations, Leigh!!!

Ronald L. Smith said...

This just blows my freakin' mind and I was grinning like a Chesire cat while reading it.

Indeed, you are awesome.

Unknown said...

I just ran across this but I am so stoked to read this when it comes out. Also, thank you so much for sharing this story. Makes me feel like something good may come out of the hard work that one puts in. I'll be querying soon and I am so happy I ran across this. Thank you again and congrats!

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