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Introducing a new writing tool from the maker of QueryTracker. Learn More...

Success Story Interview - David Neuner

An Interview with David Neuner (daven71 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Heather Cashman of Storm Literary Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
David Neuner:
My novel is a YA psychological thriller that I pitch as follows: "When Alexis finds out her sister’s killer was a former patient of her college professor, she’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth about her sister's disappearance ... and why she was left behind."

I love reading (and writing) thrillers. The idea for the story came from a conversation I was having with my daughter about her college psychology class.
QT: How long have you been writing?
David Neuner:
I've been writing for a decade, but really began honing my craft over the last 6 years. In 2017, I attended a Writing Day Workshop in Philadelphia that opened my eyes to the world or writing and publishing.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
David Neuner:
I began writing this book during Covid and first began querying in 2021. Since then, I have substantially revised the story based on feedback from agents and critique partners.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
David Neuner:
I am an eternal optimist, so I wouldn't say I ever seriously considered giving up. That said, there were many times when I would take a hard look at myself in the mirror and question whether or not I had what it takes to reach the next level.
QT: Is this your first book?
David Neuner:
This is my 3rd completed manuscript. 4th if you count one I wrote for fun just to see if I could write a full-length novel.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
David Neuner:
No. I am actually an engineer by trade. I've always had a creative side, though, which I've channeled in many ways over the years. I have spent a lot of time honing my craft through books, seminars, webinars, and professional editors.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
David Neuner:
Not a schedule, per se, but a commitment to write as often as possible. When I'm waiting for feedback or query responses, I was always working on something.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
David Neuner:
Officially, the manuscript that earned me two offers is titled "Revision 12". Each of those revisions reflected a significant change to the manuscript. Unofficially, I had several more edits in between.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
David Neuner:
No, but I had several critique partners and a few passes of the opening pages with professional editors.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
David Neuner:
Before I start writing a story, I create a loose chapter outline to make sure I have enough substance for an entire story. I usually depart form this outline early and often, though, based on where I feel like the story needs to go. Throughout the revision process, I'm constantly tweaking, dropping in plot twists, and amping up the stakes.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
David Neuner:
I began querying this novel in 2021. 2017 was when I queried my first manuscript.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
David Neuner:
According to my handy-dandy spreadsheet, I received offers on queries 112 and 121. Of those queries, I had 6 partials, 7 fulls, and 1 R&R.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
David Neuner:
Research on QueryTracker (of course!), agency websites, Manuscript Wish List, Publishers Marketplace, Writer's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, writing conferences, Twitter, ... The list goes on and on.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
David Neuner:
Yes. I always tailor my queries to show why I queried a particular agent. It could be as simple as: "I see from your MSWL that you are interested in high-concept thrillers and you enjoy books by Gillian Flynn." When I can, I include more details from my research. It could be a quote from an interview they gave, a "How I Got My Agent" post from their client, an author they represent, or something I else found that really resonated with me.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
David Neuner:
Research. Research. Research. Read and respect agent's MSWLs. Follow agency/agent query guidelines. Always be professional and be respectful. Agents can receive 30-50+ queries per day, so be patient and know that many will not respond at all. Be persistent - never give up. Query in small batches. Work on something else while you wait. If you're not getting any bites, pivot. Maybe it's your query letter, maybe it's your opening pages, maybe it's your writing. Seek more input. Engage with the Writing Community - there isn't a more supportive group out there. Celebrate the achievements of your fellow writers & illustrators - blowing out someone else's candle doesn't make yours shine brighter. Stay with it for the long haul - believe me, it's worth the wait.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
David Neuner:
Here's the query that landed my first offer. I removed the agent's name and my bio.

Query Letter:

Dear {AGENT},

When Alexis finds out her sister’s killer was a former patient of her college professor, she’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth about her sister's disappearance ... and why she was left behind.

WATERING THE SEEDS OF GUILT is a 71,000-word young adult psychological thriller that will appeal to readers of THE DARKEST CORNERS, by Kara Thomas, and GIRL LAST SEEN, by Nina Laurin. I enjoyed reading your personal journey on your agency website and how you work with your clients find success in the publishing world. I also see that you enjoy thrillers that keep you hooked from the first page. I hope my twisty thriller featuring intense confrontations reminiscent of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and the powerful inner journey of a young woman fighting to win her mother’s approval will appeal to you.

Eighteen-year-old Alexis Duval attends the execution of Bill Lawrence seeking more than peace of mind. She wants answers from the man who’s on death row because of her testimony. Bill was coming for her that night. Instead, he took her sister—the one person Alexis could never measure up to. And every day since, Alexis has been consumed by one question: Why not me?

Before the lethal chemicals siphon into his veins, Bill’s uses his final words to tell everyone in attendance that Alexis is responsible for her own sister’s death. Unable to face her mother—and her crushing guilt over the role she played in her sister’s abduction—Alexis has no choice but to resurrect her pursuit of the truth. She hopes the missing evidence is buried in the files of her college professor renowned for his controversial research on serial killers … including Bill Lawrence. But the professor’s work is unfinished and Alexis holds the key to unlocking his most perplexing patient—a convicted killer who claims responsibility for Bill’s murderous crimes. Now, Alexis must outwit a manipulative psychopath if she’s to uncover who’s really responsible for her sister’s death … and why she was left behind.


In accordance with your agency’s querying instructions, I have included the first ten pages of my completed manuscript below. Thank you very much for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


David Neuner