Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing on Wednesdays: Picture Book Query Template

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.

Sincerely,
Your signature
Your name

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.

25 comments:

  1. Great template! Is it wrong of me to like query letters? Because I do.

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    1. If it's wrong, then we're both wrong. ;-)

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  2. I'm with you, Elana. Once when I thought I was done with an MS, I wrote the query and realized I had a ways to go still.

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    1. Another great reason to love query letters! :-)

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  3. Great query template Ishta, of course I'll spread the word about this. Thanks a lot :)

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  4. This is AWESOME Ishta! I'm going to share this with my 12 x 12 in 2012 group so expect to be inundated soon! :-)

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  5. Ishta, the template you've provided is SO SIMPLE, even a child-lit writer could do it! I tease - but really, it's a bit of a cold-water moment - you mean THAT is the mythic ogre of whom I've been so frightened? Why, that's ...easy! Prescriptive! And even a little bit fun - what other book/series IS my book like? And how and why? An ego-building moment, I declare!

    Thank you thank you for posting this. You know I'll be back for more wisdom in the future... :)

    Not Anonymously Yours,
    melissaK
    (From Julie Hedlund's 12x12 group)

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    1. I'm glad it's helpful, Melissa. Feel free to send your queries my way and we'll workshop them on the blog.

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  6. Thanks for the outline. It is helpful. But what if you've not met them before? Do you suggest only sending a query to a agent/editor who you've met at a conference or somewhere?

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    1. Good question, Jackie. If you haven't met the person you're querying, then you cite any interviews or other places where you've read that they like the type of manuscript that you're sending them. Something like, "I read in your interview on Blog X that you like boy-centred books about robots, so I'm sending you my manuscript,..." etc.

      Even if you haven't met them (which is usually the case), you should be doing your research and making sure they represent or publish the type of book you've written before querying them.

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  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Thanks, Ishta, for the breakdown and your generous offer to critique our query letters :~])

    Lori Mozdzierz
    (aka: one of Julie's 12 X 12 groupies)

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  9. This is super helpful. I shall be checking back. :-) Another 12x12er!

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  10. Love the example you shared. Sometimes it just helps to SEE what it look like. You are very helpful and it is so appreciated.
    Thank You for sharing.

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  11. WOW!!!!!!!!!!! Printing out. And for the record. Query letters give me the hives. *scratch* *scratch*

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  12. I'm a 12x12er too, and have to say, THANK YOU! How simple, huh? Man, I feel sheepish for being so worried about it all. Thank you!!

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  13. This is fantastic, Ishta! Thank you so much for sharing this!

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  14. Thanks for the great example Ishta. I'm struggling with my letter, but this is helping, thanks!

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  15. I have a question. Should the query format be the same as a snail mail business letter?
    (Address, date, phone, email in the top left-hand corner and then the agencies info a few spaces down, etc)

    Also, how do I make sure when I paste my picture book manuscript, it doesn't morph into gobbledy-gook when I send it?

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    1. An emailed query format should NOT be the same format as a standard business letter. Open with your professional greeting, following with the letter, and ending with your signature and contact details (address, phone number, etc.).

      If you're mailing your query, then the format is the same as the standard business letter.

      As far as making sure your copy-pasted pages don't turn into gobbled-gook, I always email myself a test-email to make sure it looks right before I send the query.

      Good luck! :-)

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    ReplyDelete