For those of you who have been following my progress in the smories.com competition with my picture book entry ‘Can You Jump Like a Kangaroo‘ I have some good news to share. The competition ended two days ago and my story came in third! It may not have been first, but I was still extremely happy to win a place. Now I am preparing to query the story to publishers.
Writing a Picture Book Query: The Dilemma
I frequent quite a few agent and writing blogs and have collected a plethora of information on querying, however now I am faced with writing a query for a picture book I’ve found all my previous research on queries, which has primarily focused on querying novels, is not quite adequate for writing a PB query. I sat at my computer with a word document open, typed the initial salutation and then stopped. I know how to condense a 50k + word novel into a paragraph, I’ve written and rewritten queries for my YA novel many times over, but how do I write a paragraph summary of a picture book that’s only 147 words?
Sourcing Blogs for Query Writing Tips
I checked out a few picture book queries kidlit agent Mary Kole had commented upon on her blog during a query competition she held a while back to get some ideas (she has since removed these posts, but she has another post on picture book queries here, which I’ve also linked below). Through looking at these examples with comments from an agent who specialises in kidlit I was able to gain some insight into how a pictures book plot can be written in a query letter. I discovered channeling the voice of the book was a good first step. I wrote out my query with a better idea on how I could approach describing the story, but I still wasn’t sure if I was hitting the mark.
Seeking the Opinions of Those Who Have Written Successful Queries
I decided to seek out the opinions of two lovely Australian picture book authors I met through #pblitchat on Twitter. Kathryn Apel is the author of picture book This is the Mud and Karen Collum is the author of several picture books including one due out this September titled Samuel’s Kisses. I regard them both as being great sources of knowledge on all things PB related. They both gave me some great advice on writing a PB query. Here are the main points they made:
– Capture the heart and tone of your story in the query.
– Use small section of text from your book.
– Keep it short and sweet, one to two paragraphs is enough.
– Give the whole story in a nutshell, including the ending.
Armed with this great advice I shaped my query to match more with the tone of my story, with some little excerpts from the text weaved into it.
My query still needs some polishing so I’ve submitted it to the Query Kick-Around on YA Lit Chat (which also accomodates other types of kidlit, including picture books) and hopefully I’ll receive some helpful critique from some of the other members there.
Next step: Sending the queries to publishers here in Australia. I’ve got a list of a few of the publishers currently accepting unsolicited manuscripts for picture books, so hopefully one of them will love my story enough to publish it.
Since I wrote this post a few sites/blogs have popped up with some helpful information on writing picture book queries, so I thought it might be helpful to update this post with some links.
Mary Kole on kidlit.com made a post specifically on how to write a picture book query: Picture Book Queries
The Query Shark bites into a picture book query: Query Shark #178
Looking for PB query critiques? The Write on Con forums have a section specifically dedicated to critiquing PB queries. Registration is free at the time of this post and it’s a site well worth joining if you’re a kidlit writer: Write on Con
Here is a helpful webinar video from Write on Con with Emma Walton Hamilton (aka The Query Whisperer): Picture Book Query Letters.
Another great resource that’s cropped up in the last few years is the 12 x 12 Picture Book Writing Challenge. As well as providing great resources on picture book queries, you also get access to webinars from industry professionals that sometimes include helpful information on crafting picture book queries and even sometimes opportunities to have your query critiqued by a professional (such as the fabulous Emma Walton Hamilton). There is also access to a query critique forum where you can receive critique from fellow (often experienced) PB writers on your picture book query. While it does cost to join 12 x 12, it is a worthwhile investment for picture book writers who are serious about submitting to agents and editors. 12 x 12 is open to new members from about mid-January through to the end of February.
UPDATE (Feb 2016):
I’ve recently come across a post on picture book query writing from agent Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary Agency. She offers three great tips specific to picture book queries. You can find the post here: How to Query a Picture Book.
Picture by nuttakit