I promised last week that I would launch my Wednesday Picture Book Query Critique series by posting a template for picture book queries, and here it is!
First, a quick word about query letters vs. cover letters and querying vs. submitting. We all know that technically, a query letter asks for permission to send your full manuscript, while a cover letter acts as a brief reminder of why they have requested your full manuscript in the first place. BUT, in the case of picture books, the vast vast majority of agents and editors will ask you to just send your full manuscript along with the query. There are a couple of exceptions to this - for example, Writers House agent Steven Malk's guidelines state that he wants a query letter only - but by and large, you'll be sending your full manuscript along with a letter, and this will be the first time you have contacted this professional about your manuscript.
THEREFORE, your query letter is really a hybrid letter: you still need to entice the agent or editor, but you're also introducing yourself and your work. So, I approach it the same way I approach the traditional query letter, without the part where you ask if you can send your manuscript.
Basically, your query needs to do three things: 1) introduce your book (name, premise, word count, audience); 2) introduce you (writing history, publication history, professional memberships or qualifications); and 3) make the person reading it want to read your manuscript. It should also be personalised, so the person you're submitting your work to knows why you are sending this particular manuscript to them (as opposed to the rest of the publishing world). SO, I break this down into three basic paragraphs.
My typical query looks like this:
Dear Agent or Editor Fabulous,
We met at such-and-such conference/award ceremony/event and talked about topic X. After our conversation, I think you'll be interested in my manuscript, TITLE IN ALL CAPS, a XXXX-word picture book for insert age group (usually 4-8 year-olds).
Blah blah blah blah catchy line that summarizes the CONFLICT - this is the hook, guys. Another line (not a rhetorical question!) that outlines the STAKES. Fans of this major series, this midlist book, and this other book you might not have heard of will enjoy my book/seeing how this plucky heroine saves the day/whatever the connection os between those books and your book.
I am a member of these professional organisations (please join an organisation: SCBWI is pretty much a must, and it's not expensive), and my work has been published in Such-and-Such magazine/I have THIS BOOK coming out in November of 2012 with X publisher/whatever you've got going for you. If you have a professional or quirky connection to this manuscript in particular, (for example, if you have big hair and you've written a manuscript about a kid with big hair, or if you work with autistic kids and you've written a manuscript about an autistic kid), you mention it here.
lease note that this is a simultaneous submission. I look forward to hearing from you.
ET VOILA! This is really not that hard, guys. We all make it out to be more than it is.
OKAY! So, send me your queries, and we'll polish up those hook and stakes lines. In the meantime, got any questions? Comments?
Lay it on me.