Tag Archives: 12 x 12

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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Why Picture Book Writers Should Join 12 x 12

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In 2012 I joined the first ever 12 x 12 challenge. The premise was simple: write 12 picture book drafts in 12 months. Since then 12 x 12 has grown and developed into more than just a challenge. It has become an important community and opportunity for picture book writers. I would HIGHLY recommend any aspiring picture book writer to join.

Why? These are my top reasons for recommending picture book writers join 12 x 12:

  1. You will learn so much about writing picture books and the kidlit industry. Seriously. As well as being involved in a community of other kidlit writers, some of whom are already published or who are extremely knowledgeable about picture books, you will also have the opportunity to learn from industry professionals.
  2. Community. If you ask any member of 12 x 12 what they love most about 12 x 12 they will most likely tell you ‘the community’. As I said above, there is a plethora of knowledge about picture book writing that fellow 12 x 12ers are willing to share. There is a genuine desire to help each other succeed. Between the Facebook group (where you can ask for advice, share resources and celebrate successes) and the forum (where you can get your picture book MS or query letter critiqued, learn more about the kidlit industry or connect with fellow writers) you will find a generous, kind-spirited community to share your writing journey and help you grow as a PB writer.
  3. It’s like a PB writing conference that lasts all year!  There are monthly webinars that are available exclusively to members. These webinars involve industry professionals, such as editors, agents, published authors and more. There are opportunities for professional critiques, as well as a plethora of other opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
  4. Opportunity to submit to agents. For those who join at Gold level, you have the opportunity every month to submit to a literary agent who might otherwise be closed to unsolicited queries. Sometimes these agents even reply with feedback.

It is honestly the best writing community I have ever been involved in. You will learn so much, develop connections and be presented with opportunities unavailable elsewhere. I really can’t recommend it enough to fellow picture book writers.

You can find more information HERE.

If the membership fee is a bit off-putting, apparently you can do a 6-month payment plan through Paypal. Honestly, it is completely worth it. I promise.

12 x 12 is currently open to join for this year. You have until 29th February 2016 before registration closes for the year. Feel free to say I referred you 🙂

Why I Decided to Self-Publish + Prize Winners Announced!

Why I Decided to Self-Publish

beautiful&deadlycover FINALIn two weeks I will be releasing Beautiful & Deadly: A Fantasy Collection. It will be my first time venturing into the world of self-publishing. In the past I had never really seriously considered self-publishing—preferring to stick to the traditional publishing route. Self-publishing has typically had a bit of a stigma attached to it—self-publishing is for authors who can’t get published by traditional means, right? Plus it would mean all the marketing and business side of publishing would fall to me. I didn’t feel I was business-minded and that I lacked the confidence to market my own work.

But over the past few months my mindset has changed.

Why I changed my mind:
  1. I listened to a webinar on self-publishing children’s books through 12 x 12 and it got me inspired, especially when it was mentioned that children’s writers could do well through being hybrid-authors (authors who are both traditionally published and self-published). I ended up signing up for the Picture Ebook Mastery course run by the Children’s Book Insider and I started playing around with the idea of self-publishing my own children’s book. My biggest drawback came from the fact that I am not an illustrator and hiring an illustrator would be costly.
  2. A friend put me onto the ‘Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast and I started listening to it. I became even more inspired. There were writers out there making a good living off self-publishing. I think there is this mindset that there are so many badly self-published books out there that self-publishing has developed a stigma that turns readers off. But the authors on these podcasts were finding that if they put the work in and put out a professional-standard book, they could do well. I began to think, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
  3. I started reading more about self-publishing and seemed like a lot of authors were saying that even in traditional publishing a lot of the marketing was left on the shoulders of the author. That was a big selling point for me. The marketing aspect of self-publishing had been a major off-putting aspect for me, but if I was going to be responsible for marketing my work even in traditional publishing, then it was no longer a point against self-publishing. In fact, marketing a self-published book would be great practice if I ever end up being traditionally published. Plus haven’t I already been marketing my short stories in their respective anthologies? This wouldn’t be too much different, except it would just be me (no other contributing authors/publisher to share the load).
  4. There have been times in the past where I briefly thought I would like to put all my published short stories into a collection, but now that the idea of self-publishing had lost its stigma for me, I started entertaining the idea much more seriously. The more I planned the collection, the more I wanted to make it a reality. And because most of the stories in the collection have been previously published, I think it took some of the pressure off, because they’d already been through a lot of edits and I knew I could put out a professional book. There are two rules for self-publishing; one of those is for your book to be professionally edited.
  5. The second rule is to have a professional cover. I started researching cover artists, but at the same time I started playing around making my own cover. Thankfully I have been doing graphic art for about 8 years as a hobby and I have made a lot of mock covers over the years. My first cover was very amateur looking, so I scrapped it and made another. This one I felt looked professional, especially after some tweaking based on feedback. It was more validation that I could actually self-publish a professional-looking book. (P.S. For others considering self-publishing, I highly recommend getting a cover artist, unless you have been doing graphics yourself for years and have enough skills to do it yourself. If your cover doesn’t look professional, readers will be put off buying the book.)

Fingers crossed and wish me luck as I plunge head first into the world of self-publishing.

For those interested in exploring self-publishing, this series of posts by Author Entrepreneur Management Solutions is a must read. It takes you through planning, marketing, expenses and predicting income.

I’d love to hear stories from anyone else who has taken this route. Or what other writers think of self-publishing? Would you do it? Why or why not?
PRIZE WINNERS!

And now for the winners of my blogiversary giveaway!

Prize 1: An advance copy of Beautiful & Deadly.

Mary Preston!

Prize 2: A limited edition short story of your choice from the collection.

Angelina M Linan!

Prize 3: Your choice of a story critique OR a $5 Amazon gift card.

Melissa Gijsbers Khalinsky!

Thanks to all who entered and shared the competition. Winners, please check your email for your prizes!

September Inspiration

Here in the Southern Hemisphere spring has sprung! But if the beautiful spring weather (or the arrival of autumn and all its wonderful colours for those above the equator) isn’t sparking your creativity, here are some prompts to help inspire you.

PICTURE PROMPT

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Where is this? Who is taking the photo and why? What is that black shadow in the sky? (you can click on picture for larger view)

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Spring
  • Father
  • Grand final
  • Heritage
  • Sneeze
  • Rain
  • Chile

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • School
  • Autumn
  • Work
  • Moon
  • Harvest
  • Regatta
  • Remembrance

GENERAL

  • Sapphire
  • Minerva
  • The number seven
  • Basil
  • 30 days
  • Maiden

June Inspiration

Need some writing inspiration this month? With summer holidays starting in the Northern Hemisphere and cold wintry days perfect for writing in the Southern Hemisphere, you don’t want to be stuck for ideas, so here are some prompts:

PICTURE PROMPT

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Where is this place? What does the crow signify? Is the crow the main character? The main character’s pet? Part of the scenery? An omen?

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Fireplace
  • Winter
  • Queen
  • Marathon
  • Football/rugby

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Vacation
  • Beach
  • Father
  • Fish
  • Ulysses

GENERAL

  • Twins
  • Marriage
  • Youth/children
  • Flag
  • Solstice
  • Skateboard

May Inspiration

With NaPiBoWriWee and Short Story Month currently happening, I’m sure there are quite a few of you looking for inspiration this month. Since these events are happening, and since I didn’t do an inspiration post in March or April, I’ve added some extra inspiration in this month, including TWO picture prompts!

PICTURE PROMPTS

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Picture Prompt 1

Where does the road lead? What’s beyond the fog? Who is travelling this road? What does the fog mean?

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Picture Prompt 2

Who does this belong to? What does it contain? How did it come to be here?

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Leaves
  • Autumn
  • Sign language
  • Music
  • Butterfly
  • Revolution
  • Red

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Flowers
  • Sunshine
  • Sneeze
  • Children
  • Maypole
  • Horse
  • Cinco de Mayo

GENERAL

  • Mother
  • The number five
  • Fertility
  • Elders
  • Soldier
  • Nurse
  • Dance

February Inspiration

Looking for some inspiration for your picture book, short story or poetry this month? Hopefully there will be something here to spark your muse.

PICTURE PROMPT
PICTURE PROMPT

PICTURE PROMPT

What sort of bird left this feather behind? Where is it? What is the bird’s story? Or what is the story of the person who finds the feather? What does the feather signify?

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Fire
  • Flood
  • New Zealand
  • Sun
  • School

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Family
  • Pearls of ice
  • Football
  • Groundhog
  • Flag

GENERAL

  • Pancakes
  • Valentine
  • Water
  • Wedding
  • Red

January Inspiration

Although this post is primarily written with those partaking in 12 x 12 in mind, it can serve as inspiration for anyone in need of a writing muse.

It’s the first month of 12 x 12, so hopefully you’ve come into the challenge full of fresh ideas, ready to write and, for some, maybe a notepad full of ideas from PiBoIdMo. But maybe you’re already lost. Maybe you did 12 x 12 last year and you’ve exhausted your well of ideas. Maybe you thought your ideas were great, but now when you try to write a PB, they’re not sparking like you expected. But not to worry, if you need a bit of inspiration, here is a list of prompts (including a picture prompt). Maybe a single prompt word will prompt a story. Maybe a combination of prompt words will. Hopefully there will be something there to inspire you. Good luck!

PICTURE PROMPT
PICTURE PROMPT

PICTURE PROMPT

Who is she? Where is she? What is she doing? Why?

SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Summer
  • Holiday
  • Swimming pool
  • Barbeque
  • Australia/New Zealand

 

NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

  • Snowman
  • Frosty window
  • Winter
  • Martin Luther King
  • Fire

 

GENERAL

  • Snake
  • Fireworks
  • Doorway
  • Wolf