My query story for the book that became The Distance Between Lost and Found is a bit unusual. I went the traditional route with my first (unpublished) manuscript, sending out tons of queries over several rounds of revision. But with my second completed manuscript, I decided to enter a pitch contest, WriteOnCon’s Luck o’ the Irish pitchfest (held in March 2013), before querying widely. Because the pitchfest was being judged by literary agents, I felt I had nothing to lose. Even if I didn’t get any agent interest right away, I’d receive feedback on my pitch that might help me refine it before I started querying in earnest.
Then, to my surprise, I was chosen as the winning pitch in my bracket by agent Alyssa Eisner Henkin of Trident Media Group. The prize: a full manuscript read. A week later, Alyssa wrote to offer representation. The rest is history!
The pitchfest had a word count limit, so the organizers advised not including biographical info or comp titles. And, because I was not addressing a particular agent, there are no personal details reflecting why the book would be right for the agent in question. Instead, my pitch was simply a two-paragraph plot teaser. (The book title, at that point The Creation of Hallelujah Calhoun, was listed as the title of the forum thread. Pitches were posted anonymously.)
Here’s my winning pitch:
All 16-year-old Hallelujah Calhoun wants is to be left alone. It’s been more than a year since Jake Willis humiliated her and started spreading lies about what happened between them, and the rumors still follow her around. She’s angry—at Jake, at the people who believed him, and at God for letting it all happen. So the last place she wants to be is on a youth group hiking trip with everyone who makes her life miserable.
Then she gets lost in the mountains with Jonah, a former friend who stopped talking to her the night the lies started, and Rachel, a girl from another church whose outgoing charm hides her own pain. After a violent storm sends them tumbling down the side of a mountain, their only goal is to find the trail again. But days pass. Their food runs out, the temperature drops, and the injuries add up. Since everything happened with Jake, Hallelujah hasn’t trusted anyone. With hope of rescue slipping away, trusting Jonah and Rachel—and trusting herself—may be the only way to make it home alive.
Some of the details are different in the final book—for instance, Jake was later renamed Luke—but the pitch still truly represents the story.