Category Archives: Helpful sites

How to Write a Picture Book Query

1195237_old_lettersIn my role as co-admin for the query critique forum on 12 x 12, I recently wrote a post on writing a picture book query. 12 x 12 is closed to new memberships for 2016 (they will reopen again in January 2017), but I wanted share the post here, too, because while there is a lot of information out there on writing regular query letters, information on writing a picture book query is much harder to come by.

At the end of the post you’ll find some tips from professionals and some helpful resources.

Remember, agents/editors can differ in what they expect/want from a query letter (or cover letter), so please always check submission guidelines.

How to Write a Picture Book Query – The Basics

The Layout of a Picture Book Query

When writing a query letter for a picture book you will basically have three main paragraphs, plus your sign-off.

  1. Intro
  • Make sure you specifically address the agent you are querying (use Mr. or Ms. [last name]). DOUBLE CHECK you have spelled their name correctly.
  • Personalise to the agent. Why are you querying this agent with this story? Show you have done your research.
  • You can also include here the TITLE of your story (in all-caps), the word count and the age-range. Age-range is super important, as it shows you know your target audience. Some people include word count and age-range after the pitch and that’s okay, too.
  1. The pitch.
  • This is where you pitch your story. Think of it like a book jacket blurb—you want to entice the agent to read your story.
  • Keep it short (this is a point universally agreed upon by agents—picture book queries should be short and simple). Try to aim for three sentences for the pitch. Five sentences at the very maximum!
  • In a picture book query you should aim to tell your story in a nutshell, including the ending. You don’t have to give everything away—you can still keep a bit of mystery. There’s no need to tell how your characters get to that point—you still want to leave the agent/editor intrigued.
  • Here’s a helpful template to help boil down your plot: “When [catalyst of your story happens], [main character] [takes this action], however [these things happen to prevent character reaching their goal]. In the end [this happens/main character discovers this].”
  • It’s important to convey the tone and voice of your story in the query (this DOES NOT mean telling it in your character’s POV). Eg: Is your story funny? Make sure you convey that humour in the query.
  • After the pitch, you might include any comparative texts or mention any relevant information/market research (eg: if it has crossover appeal or there’s a gap in the market or it has content/back matter appropriate for classroom use).

3. Bio

  • Include any publishing credits or awards if you have any. (If you don’t, that’s okay!)
  • You can also include any relevant tertiary degrees or professions (eg: you’re writing a book on dinosaurs and you’re a palaeontologist).
  • Include if you are a member of SCBWI or 12 x 12 or any other significant/relevant associations.
  1. Sign off.
  • Let them know if you have other titles available to view upon their request. (No need to include specific titles, just a generic “I have several other completed titles available upon request” is all you need.)
  • Thank them for their time and consideration.
  • Don’t forget to include your contact details under your sign off. (In emails, contact details go after your signature, rather than at the top as is usual in snail mail.)

TIP: Be sure to read your query aloud! Not only will this help you catch any spelling/grammar mistakes, but it allows you to hear how it sounds.

Tips from Professionals

From agent Mary Kole of kidlit.com

  • Create an image in the agent’s mind.
  • “Even if you’re only writing the text, give me at least one concrete image to walk away from the query with… Describe a scene for me in a sentence that’ll give me a mental picture.”
  • Channel the voice of your book.
  • Keep it short and simple.
  • “Present the main characters, the main problem, and the resolution, then work in a hook.”

From picture book authors, and hosts of PB Lit Chat, Kathryn Apel and Karen Collum

  • Capture the heart and tone of your story.
  • Use a small section of text from your book. (eg: a line or phrase) This doesn’t mean quote a section of your story, but rather work the wording into your story description. Use the same fun words or slip in some of the imagery.
  • Keep it short.
  • Give the whole story in a nutshell, including the ending.

From agent Janet Reid of Query Shark

  • “You should not describe how you want the book laid out or offer illustrations (generally).” This means, don’t include page breaks in your manuscript or send a dummy or tell them you already have an illustrator lined up or include illustrations (unless, of course, YOU are an author/illustrator).
  • “Who is your audience? Who will buy this book?” ie: what age range is the book aimed at. Would this appeal to the parent of a child of this age range.
  • “Give me confidence that you’ve done research on how the industry works.”

From Emma Walton Hamilton (aka The Query Whisperer)

  • Make the agent feel as though you’ve done your homework.
  • Focus on the theme (this refers to the essence of your story).
  • Make it intriguing without giving away the whole
  • Be succinct. Two to three sentences for your pitch paragraph.
  • “Craft your sentences artfully—so that the query conveys both the strength of your writing skills and the spirit of your manuscript.”
  • Conclude with what your character learns in the end.

From agent Danielle Smith of Foreword Literary

  • Be concise—tell me what I need to know.

From agent Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary

  • Keep it short—you should be able to tell the plot in three to five sentences.
  • Know where your picture book belongs in the market.

As you can see there’s some recurring themes here:

**KEEP IT SHORT!**

**Know your audience/do your research.**

**Bring the tone/voice/theme/imagery/heart of your story into the query.**

 

Helpful Links/Sources:

Picture Book Queries on kidlit.com

Query Shark

How to Query a Picture Book on mariavicente.com

Picture Book Query Letters by Emma Walton Hamilton (from Write on Con 2011)

Writing a Picture Book Query on johartauthor.com

You might also like to check out Julie Hedlund (12 x 12 founder) and Emma Walton Hamilton’s course: The Complete Picture Book Submissions System (though it costs to do the course, even when it’s closed you can pick up a FREE 7-Step Submissions Checklist, which has some helpful hints on crafting your query).

If you become a member of 12 x 12 you not only get access to the query critique forum, but you also get access to webinars from agents, editors and other professionals that sometimes focus specifically on writing picture book queries (there’s one coming up this month for members ‘Cracking the Picture Book Query’). Registration opens to new members in January and February.

 

Please feel free to share below any useful resources/links you have come across in relation to PB query writing. Or perhaps you’ve received or heard advice from agents/editors at conferences, etc. you can share.

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New FREE Writing Newsletter

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This year I am starting up a monthly writing newsletter. It is completely FREE and sent to your email once a month.

Each month the newsletter will include:

  • Writing tips.
  • Helpful writing links.
  • Book recommendations (good writers are also voracious readers!)
  • A writing challenge.
  • And bonus bits, eg: sneak peeks for my stories or special giveaways.

How to subscribe:

Simply look the the right hand side of your screen and right underneath the search box you will see ‘FREE NEWSLETTER’. All you have to do is click ‘I want to subscribe!’ and enter your email. You can also sign up through my Facebook page HERE.

The very first issue will be sent out later today!

Writing Mentorship Program Opportunity for Emerging Writers

Yesterday I learned of an exciting new mentorship program that’s starting next month for emerging writers. It’s being run by the fantastic editor, publisher and author Jodi Cleghorn. I had the opportunity to work closely with Jodi on two of my published short stories (A Troll for Christmas and Eighteen for Life) and both experiences really helped me improve and hone my craft. Jodi is passionate about helping out new and emerging writers and she’s an expert at helping to show you how to bring out the best in your writing.

Jodi describes her new program, For The Asking, as:

…a hybrid program combining direct mentorship, a writing course and elements of creative exploration. It has the flexibility to accommodate different goals while at the same time providing a shared space to connect with (or hone) the craft of writing through experimentation in style, form, voice, genre and different creative modalities, combined with thoughtful critique, self-reflection and peer interaction. Each mentee will also have the opportunity to pursue one or two writing related goals.

This is a fantastic opportunity for:

  • people who have always wanted to write, but have never had the courage to take the next step.
  • new writers who would like to take their craft to the next level.
  • those who need extra confidence in their writing abilities.
  • experienced writers in need of a creative reboot.

The first 12-week program begins on Sunday 13th September. You must be over 18 years of age to be eligible. You can apply for one of the four available places by going HERE and scrolling down to the end of the post for the application link and further details of the program. Applications need to be submitted by midnight 3rd September (Australian Eastern Standard Time).

The Starving Author

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The Dream…

When I was younger I dreamt that one day I would be able to spend my whole day focusing on my writing. I would have enough money to hire a housekeeper to do all my housework and enough money to pay all my bills and buy food. When I was about sixteen and considering my future seriously for the first time, I realised that it was very hard to make a living as a writer unless you happened to sell a bestseller. So I very sensibly took a leaf out of my favourite author’s book (John Marsden) and studied to become a teacher so I might have a means to support myself until I could write that bestseller.

Reality

Fast forward nearly two decades later. Not only do I not have a housekeeper, I also have three.children who need to be fed and schooled and clothed. I have a husband who is currently pursuing his dream of owning a dairy farm, which unfortunately means a lot of debt and a hard slog (but I love him and I love our lifestyle so I wouldn’t have it any other way). After teaching for several years, I currently stay at home with my kids. I love it because I love being with them as they grow and I get to focus on my writing more than I would be able to if I was working. So here I am, a poor starving author (well, not really starving, but it would be nice to have a little extra instead of always fretting if we’ll have enough to pay all our bills).

What’s A Poor Starving Author To Do?

One day a couple of months ago my husband had left the television on when a talk show called ‘The Living Room’ came on. One of the segments talked about ways to make a little extra money. I went online and checked out a website called fiverr they had talked about. It’s a site where you can offer any kind of service for just $5. There are people on there offering everything from proofreading to writing website content, from offering advice to designing logos. There are even people offering silly/crazy things like singing happy birthday and having pie thrown in their face.

I thought about what I might be able to offer, then took the plunge. I currently have two ‘gigs’ posted.

1) I will write a personalised children’s story up to 500 words for $5 (and for an extra $5 I will write it in rhyme).

2) I will offer personalised parenting advice for $5.

If you are a poor starving writer like me, it’s worth having a look. There’s so much scope for offering your skills, whether it’s proofreading, editing, writing stories, writing web content or any other skills you have to offer. It’s just a little bit extra you could put towards writing conferences, editing services, or even just your everyday bills.

The key:

a) make sure your profile and gigs come across as professional.

b) play up your related skills and experience (eg: in my writing gig I mention I am a published author and have a major in Writing).

c) make sure you do your best to provide a quality service. (Sometimes buyers give you tips if they really like your work, so it’s worth putting in the effort. It also means more 5 star reviews, which will entice more buyers into seeking your services.)

If you would like to help out this starving author, please feel free to share this link to my fiverr profile or either of my individual gigs. 🙂

I’d love to hear what other starving authors are doing to make some extra money. Please share in the comments!

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts

I love Grammarly because even grammar nerds like me sometimes need a second pair of eyes.

Full disclosure: This blog post was sponsored by Grammarly (hence the line above), but I loved using their site so much I wanted to include them on my post.

Grammarly

When I first went into the site I wondered what made it different to Word’s grammar checker, but after testing it out I realised it offers so much more. For a start, it gives a much more detailed explanation of the grammar rules than Word does, as well as examples of incorrect and correct usage (as with Word you need to sometimes use your own judgement). It covers punctuation, spelling, adverb use, split infinitives, redundant words and so much more. It’s quite comprehensive. I loved that it even picked up on common/overused words (e.g.: big) and offered suggestions for alternatives. They offer a free 7-day trial if you want to check it out for yourself.

10 Social Media Tips for Authors Marketing is an important part of being an author, whether you want to self publish or go the traditional publishing route. This post outlines tips for authors on building an effective social media platform.

Plotting a Novel This way of plotting is similar to the way I plot. Author Laurie Faria Stolarz provides a clear list of points to think about to plan out the plot of your novel. It’s simple to follow and covers all the key points. A great post to bookmark and refer back to when you’re in the planning stages of writing.

Helpful Blog Posts – May 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I’ve come across some great posts this past month. Don’t forget you can check out the masterlist (click the tab at the top of the page) for a comprehensive list of helpful writing topics.

Agent Tips – From Querying to Accepting an Offer

A comprehensive post covering each stage on the journey to acquiring an agent, including how to set out your query letter, what to do if your manuscript is requested, what to do if you receive an offer and how to handle multiple offers.

Understand the Key Book Publishing Paths

Not sure if you want to go the traditional publishing route or self publish? This infographic looks at the various book publishing paths, including the values of each and any warnings.

Copyright for Authors

Ever wondered how copyright applies to your writing, including your unpublished writing? This post explains it.

31 Ways to Find New Readers, Outside Your Network

Though this post is aimed specifically at Indie authors, it is just as relevant for those who are traditionally published. Lots of suggestions on how to reach readers beyond your usual social media circles.

What Are the Real Costs of Self-Publishing? Wrong Question

A great post for those looking at self-publishing and how best to budget to produce a profitable product.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts April/May 2012

I seem to have accululated quite a few links on promoting yourself as an author the past two months, from having a great author bio to having a professional headshot to hitting #1 on Amazon. Speaking of Amazon, don’t forget you can still get free copies of Eighty Nine for Kindle until 5.59pm AEST tomorrow (Friday). That’s 11.59pm Thursday US Pacific time and 8.59am Friday UK time. You can see my previous post for more information and links.

And now to the helpful posts for April and May…

Writing

Writing the Longer Picture Book

Mara Rockliff talks about writing longer picture books (over 600 words), including important tips for authors to keep in mind when writing a longer picture book.

8 Apps Every Writer Should Have

A list of 8 helpful writing apps for your phone, including a story tracking app for those who are in the process of submitting queries and a rhyming app for poets/picture book writers.

Ideas for Story Structure

I’ve seen a lot of different ways to plan out story structure, but I just love the simplicity of this idea. It’s not only a simple way of plotting out your novel/short story/picture book (yes, it can equally be applied to all three), it manages to incorporate the main points of the story arc. I’ll definitely be using this system in future.

Promoting Yourself as an Author

Five Ways to Fix a Boring Bio

Whether you’re published, unpublished, querying, have a Twitter or Facebook account or a blog, at some point in your writing career you will need to write an author bio (multiple times!). Think you’re boring? Or haven’t done enough yet? This post offers 5 simple and logical ways to spice up your author bio.

The Seven Worst Mistakes of Indie Authors and How to Fix Them

If you are taking the self-publishing route, this post by Joanna Penn is a must-read. She has some great advice, with solutions to oft-made mistakes by self-publishers. She speaks from the experience of someone who has been down the self-publishing path and had to learn from her own mistakes.

Amazon Bestseller: Top Ten Tips for Hitting #1 on the Amazon Store 

A post from author Rachel Abbot, whose book has topped the Amazon charts. She shares her experience of starting out thinking all she had to do was upload her book and the profits would roll in, to discovering the key factors to marketing her book successfully.

Author Business Cards

A literary agent, who is not generally a fan of business cards, talks about how to make a stellar business card that won’t get thrown in the trash. Some really great tips!

Mastering Your Author Headshot

Author August McLaughlin offers some helpful tips on making sure your author headshot gives the right impression and how you can get the most out of a headshot photo session. She includes an interview with headshot photographer Ken Dapper.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts – February & March 2012

I only have a few links to share in this combined post. Don’t forget you can find more links in the masterlist.

How Not to Write a Rhyming Picture Book

Children’s author Juliet Clare Bell shares her 7 top tips on how not to write a rhyming picture book.

How Not to Turn Readers Against You as an Author of Series Books

This post looks at what can turn a reader off wanting to read the next book in a series (and what will make them want to read the next one).

How to Give Good Critique

A great list of tips to keep in mind when critiquing fellow writers’ work.

Questions You Might Be Asked When Offered Representation

Literary agent Mary Kole gives insight into the questions you might be asked by an agent if he/she calls to offer representation and why the agent is asking them.

20 Tips for Writing the Perfect Horror Short Story

A dark fiction writer gives a comprehensive list of tips for making your horror story more effective.

How to Avoid 10 Common Conference Mistakes that Most Writers Make

10 conference organisers share the major mistakes they see writers making at conferences and how to avoid making them.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts January 2011

Time for the first ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts’ post of the the year. I’ve collected a lot of great picture book links through the 12 x 12 challenge Facebook group, but I also have a few links in other areas of writing, too.

Writing (General)

Some Advice to New or Aspiring Authors

Some great advice and tips for writers new to the writing/publishing journey.

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

This post outlines the various reasons your character could be coming across as boring or flat and offers some solutions to make your character more interesting.

Five Tips for Revising Your Novel

Literary Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan gives five tips that look at your novel as a whole when doing revisions, including a tip on character names and another on dialogue tags.

What Will Make an Agent ‘Gong’ Your Query

Thirteen reasons why an agent will stop reading your query–things to avoid when writing query letters.

Grandma Mary Can’t Market Your Book

Whether you intend to self publish or go the traditional publishing route, authors need to consider marketing. This post gives 7 steps to building a marketing plan and reaching out to your readership. It even includes a nifty chart you can use.

When to Quit Querying and Self-Publish

This post does a great job of presenting the various aspects you need to consider if you’re thinking about self-publishing after having little success with querying. It takes a very honest look at the possible reasons your work may be getting rejected and whether self-publishing is a viable alternative and also gives the honest facts about what it takes to self-publish. I love how honest, balanced and unbiased this post is in regards to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Writing for Children

9 Factors That Make a Picture Book Successful

If you are a picture book writer this is a post well worth reading. These are nine important elements to writing an effective picture book.

The 6 Most Common Mistakes Made by Aspiring Children’s Book Authors

6 common mistakes this editor sees made by picture book authors and some advice on how to avoid them.

For All Picture Book Writers, Read This

Links to a four-part interview with Vice President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books and a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director. Lots of great little nuggets of advice for picture book writers in both interviews.

Picture Book Tips from Successful Agents

Children’s book author and editor Tamson Weston consulted with agents on what makes a picture book successful and shared the top five tips for making your submission stand out.

Writing Easy Readers – Or How To Get 2nd Graders to Love You

5 quick tips for appealing to early readers as shared by an author of children’s chapter books.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts November and December 2011

I missed posting last month’s helpful writing links post in the craziness of NaNoWriMo, so this month you get the best writing sites and blog posts I’ve come across in the last two months.

Writing

Write Like Jane Austen

I was going to put this website under ‘Just for Fun’, but it is actually quite a helpful writing tool for anyone writing historical/period pieces. Just type in a modern word and it will tell you the equivalent word Jane Austen would have used.

Need a Jump? Four Ways to Fix a Stalled Story

This isn’t about writer’s block. This is for when you know where you want your story to go and you have your plan, but the story just won’t write. The scene you’re writing feels boring and lifeless. Something just isn’t working. This post can help you pinpoint why your story has stalled and how to fix it so you can get momentum going again.

Writing Fantasy Genre Stereotypes Part One: Your Heroine is Too Beautiful and Part Two: Writing the Opposite Gender

This two-part series looks at gender stereotypes in fantasy writing and how to avoid them. In particular, it looks at how in fantasy female characters are often stereotyped as either a sex object or a man in women’s clothing (or often both combined). Part one deals with visual stereotyping in the fantasy genre and part two deals with women who act like men and men who act like women (particularly aimed at women writing male characters or men writing female characters).

10 Ways to Create a Plot Twist

Plot twists are a great way to keep your story exciting, but it’s all about finding the right moment and right scenario to introduce the twist. This post provides ten ways for adding a plot twist into your story.

25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story

As writers we want our readers to keep reading until they turn the very last page. If we don’t want readers to close our book half way through, or, even worse, after the first page, this list provides tips on what to avoid in your novel to ensure your readers will keep turning pages. A great checklist for revision.

Revising

Polishing Till it Shines

A great checklist of things to look out for when revising to make your manuscript as good as it can possibly be before submitting.

Self Publishing

11 Self Publishing Strategies for Success

A lot of authors now look to self publishing as an alternative to traditional publishing, but it is by no means an easy road. This post offers some strategies to help ensure your self publishing journey is a success.

So You’re Thinking About Self Publishing

A round up of helpful sites for those thinking about self publishing.

Social Media

8 Incredibly Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your Content

Not getting many reads on your blog? This post offers some simple solutions to help get your blog posts noticed (and shared).

How to Write a Popular Writing Blog

Tips for what makes a blog popular (a post for writers who blog).

I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year!