Tag Archives: kidlit

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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It’s That Time of Year – Write on Con is Nearly Here!

I’m excited as always for the return of Write on Con this year. Haven’t heard of it? If you write any kind of kidlit, from picture books through to young adult, it’s not to be missed. This year it takes place on the 13th and 14th of August (US time).

What is Write on Con?

Write on Con is an online conference for writers of kidlit (from picture books through to young adult). It’s for writers all over the world and best of all it’s FREE!

What Happens at Write on Con?

– Live chats and blogging events with professionals in the industry, such as agents.

– Query critique sessions.

– Posts from industry professionals and authors on a variety of topics, from querying to characters and everything in between.

– Workshops.

– Peer critiques (queries/first 250 words/first 5 pages) in the forum.

– Contests.

– Writing discussions (in the forum).

– NINJA AGENTS! Secret Agents (literary agents, not the spy kind) stalk the forums and comment on/critique queries and pages writers have posted for peer review. Some writers have even been known to get requests.

Why I Love Write on Con

It’s FREE. As someone living on a tight budget, I feel guilty spending money on conferences when we’re paying off our house and raising a family who need to eat, so Write on Con is a God send for me.

It’s online. I live rurally – about a three hour drive to the nearest big city where all the conferences take place. Not only can I not afford to travel to and stay overnight in the city to attend, I also have three small children at home. At Write on Con I get to attend from my own home – no travel required. (I can even wear my pyjamas if I want!)

Meeting fellow writers. In past years I’ve met some really lovely writers whom I still talk to now. I even started up a critique group with a few of them following my first conference.

Learning lots about the craft and the publishing industry. Every year I come away with so much fabulous information from the live blogs, chats and posts by the industry professionals and authors that I’ve been able to put into practice with my writing. And even if you can’t attend one of the live events (due to timezone or other commitments) you can still access it afterwards.

I highly recommend Write on Con for anyone who writes children’s literature.

You can check out Write on Con here: http://writeoncon.com

And register for the forums here:  http://writeoncon.com/forum/forum.php

Will you be attending this year? I hope to see you there!

Write on Con is Nearly Here

I’m so excited for Write on Con this year. I attended last year and got so much out of it. This year it will be commencing on August 16th.

What is Write on Con?

Write on Con is an online conference for writers of kidlit (from picture books through to young adult). It’s for writers all over the world and best of all it’s FREE!

What Happens at Write on Con?

– Live chats and blogging events with professionals in the industry, such as agents.

– Query critique sessions.

– Posts from industry professionals and authors on a variety of topics, from querying to characters and everything in between.

– Workshops.

– Peer critiques (queries/first 250 words/first 5 pages) in the forum.

– Contests.

– Writing discussions (in the forum).

Why I Love Write on Con

It’s FREE. As someone living on a tight budget, I feel guilty spending money on conferences when we’re paying off our house and we need a new freezer, so Write on Con is a God send for me.

It’s online. I live rurally – about a three hour drive to the nearest big city where all the conferences take place. Not only can I not afford to travel to and stay overnight in the city to attend, I also have two small children at home. At Write on Con I get to attend from my own home – no travel required. (I can even wear my pyjamas if I want!)

Meeting fellow writers. Last year I met some really lovely writers whom I still talk to now. I even started up a critique group with a few of them following the conference, which is still going strong.

Learning lots about the craft and the publishing industry. Last year I came away with so much fabulous information from the live blogs, chats and posts by the industry professionals and authors that I’ve been able to put into practice with my writing. And even if you can’t attend one of the live events (due to timezone or other commitments) you can still access it afterwards.

I highly recommend Write on Con for anyone who writes children’s literature.

You can check out Write on Con here: http://writeoncon.com

And register for the forums here (you can even introduce yourself already):  http://writeoncon.com/forum/forum.php

Introducing Jo’s Labyrinth

I’m launching a new site today aimed at children, teens, teachers and parents. It is to be a Literacy based site with a focus on reading, books and creative writing. Some of the sections include Monday Munchkins for parents/teachers of young children, Teacher Tuesday for Literacy teachers, Writer Wednesday for children and teens interested in creative writing and Friday Favourites, which will have books reviews of children’s/teen Literature (from picture books through to young adult novels) with input from my own kids.

I came to realise that while my writing blog is great for sharing my writing journey and sharing tips with fellow writers, it is not the sort of blog that appeals to my target readership. Although my short stories are aimed at an older audience, my main passion is writing picture books and children’s Literature (including young adult). I wanted to start a blog/site that appeals more to kids and teens. As a teacher/writer/mum, I’ve also had a lot of mums come to me for advice on encouraging their children to read/write, and have in the past toyed with the idea of a mummy blog. Thirdly, as a teacher who is currently not teaching I have a vast collection of teaching resources and ideas that aren’t being used and I thought it would be great to share them with my fellow teachers. On top of all that, I want to share my love of reading and writing with a new generation of readers and writers, so Jo’s Labyrinth was born.

I will still be blogging on The Graceful Doe. This is still the home for blogging about my writing journey, sharing writing tips with my fellow writers and providing links to writing resources. The Graceful Doe is my ‘grown up’ blog.

You can have a look at Jo’s Labyrinth here.