Tag Archives: query shark

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.

Advertisements

Blogiversary Celebrations: Part Two – Award Ceremony

Welcome to the first ever The Graceful Doe Blogiversary Award Ceremony! It’s nice to see everyone dressed in their finest.  Now that everyone is seated let the award ceremony begin.

Over the past year I have visited numerous sites on writing, querying, etc. Many of those sites and posts have contained lots of great information and some of those great sites and posts I have shared on my blog. The awards to be presented today go to those who I have kept returning to over and over again, who give great advice or tips to writers, and who are just all around fabulous people.

Just over a year ago I discovered how much the internet had to offer aspiring authors. At that time I had decided to get serious about writing a novel and found a lot of great sites with information just right for the helping me begin my serious writing journey. So the first award is the Best Site for New Writers award. This award goes to a site offering helpful advice to those writers who may just be starting out. A site that covers the writing basics, such as writing effective dialogue and character building, in an easy to understand approach. This award goes to…

Barry Lyga’s blog barrylyga.com

For those who don’t know, the majority of my writing falls into the category of kid lit, that is, writing aimed at children and teens. As a result, I read a lot of blogs and posts relating to kid lit. This next award is for the Best Site for Kid Lit Writers. This award is for a site that covers the various aspects of writing picture books, chapter books, middle grade and young adult, giving writers of kid lit great advice to help improve their writing and querying. This award goes to…

Mary Kole’s blog kidlit.com

Query writing is something many writers agonise over, which is why it’s great that there are so many insightful blogs and websites out there offering advice. This next award is for the Best Query Advice Site. It’s for a site dedicated to helping writers write effective queries. With her brutal honesty and dedication to helping writers get their queries right, this award goes to…

The Query Shark (aka Janet Reid) at queryshark.blogspot.com

In the past year I have come across some of the loveliest literary agents. They are willing to take time to tweet and blog about querying and writing for the benefit of writers to help them along their journey towards publication. The Best Agent Site award is for a blog or website of a literary agent that offers advice and encouragement to aspiring authors. And the award goes to…

Rachelle Gardner and her blog cba-ramblings.blogspot.com

And as many lovely agents as there are about, there are just as many lovely agent interns. From tweeting about the query pile to blogging helpful hints for writers, agent interns are a great resource for aspiring authors. The award for Best Agent Intern Site is for a blog offering advice to writers, including not just advice on query letters, but other aspects of writing too. This award goes to…

Cassandra Marshall’s blog www.camarshall.com

Still on the topic of agents, anyone who follows the #queries hashtag or #askagent hashtag (or any similar hashtags) on Twitter knows that there are agents and agent interns out there giving great advice to writers on Twitter. I have a long list of agents and agent interns I follow on Twitter and all of them are only too willing to help out aspiring authors. I just had to include an award for the Best Agent to Follow on Twitter. This award is for an agent on Twitter who regularly tweets valuable advice to writers. The award goes to…

Natalie Fischer @Natalie_Fischer

There are a lot of great Twitter chats for writers. There are chats to discuss the craft of writing, writing genres, querying and a multitude of other topics. I considered doing an award for the best writer chat, but then I had another idea. Instead this award is for the Friendliest Writer Chat. This award is for a chat where you are bound to meet the friendliest writers around, who are always willing to offer support to their fellow writers and are only to happy to share links and resources with each other. The award goes to the very friendly…

#pblitchat (run by two lovely ladies known on Twitter as @KarenCollum and @KatApel)

Writer forums offer great support for writers. Apart from offering a way to connect with fellow writers, these forums are places where you can have your writing or queries critiqued, find out information about the writing industry, or, if you are really lucky, even find an agent for your book. The award for Best Writer Forum goes to a site that offers all these things as well as supporting and encouraging emerging writers. The award goes to…

YA Lit Chat at yalitchat.ning.com

And now we get to a couple of more personal awards. Critique groups and critique partners help writers see plot holes, character flaws and poor word choice a writer may have overlooked. They read a manuscipt with fresh eyes, reading it how a reader would read and understand the story without the bias the writer him/herself have, yet at the same time because they are writers themselves they can also look at the manuscript and tell the writer not just that something isn’t working, but why it isn’t working. This past few months I have been swapping chapters with a critique partner and I think she is deserving of the award for Awesome Critique Partner. The award goes to…

Beth Hull (you can find her blog here)

The last award today goes to someone who I’ve been collaborating with the past couple of weeks to bring you all a 5 page critique contest, someone who is also celebrating her 1st blogiversary today. The award for Best Blogiversary Buddy goes to…

Peevish Penman (aka Carrie Bailey – find her blog here)

And that concludes The Graceful Doe’s first ever Blogiversary Award Ceremony.

More blogiversary celebrations still to come (including the winners of the blogiversary contest).