Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Picture Book Queries: Referencing the Competition

I didn't have a query for today, so I thought I'd talk a little bit about one part of queries that often gets ignored or left out or bungled somehow: referencing the competition.

Let's be upfront about this: apart from writing your manuscript, this is the part that takes the longest to get right. At least, that's the way it is for me. You have to read a lot. You have to research the lists of the agents and editors you're querying. (In fact, I change this part of my query for each person I send it to: I try to include a book that the editor I'm querying has worked on. You don't have to do that, but I think it's worth it.) But most importantly, you have to pitch it just right.

Here's what I mean by that: you don't want to reference books that are identical to yours, because then their answer will be, "I already have a book like this." Equally, you don't want to reference books that are too different, because then you'll look like you don't know the market. You want to find books that are similar in tone - maybe they all have plucky protagonists, or maybe they've all got kind of a funky perspective (think LITTLE PEA, SPORK, etc.), or maybe they're all moody, or something.

Another thing to stay away from is referencing only blockbuster successes. If you compare your manuscript to three extremely well-known books, you risk looking like an egomaniac with unrealistic expectations. We all want our book to be the next FANCY NANCY or OLIVIA, but obviously not every book is going to be that successful, and it's important to show in your query that you understand that. Plus, when you can reference lesser-known titles, it shows that you really know the genre.

I usually pick three books: one very well-known, one mid-list, and one not-so-well-known. If you can't find books from all three areas, go for well-known and mid-list books, otherwise you risk the recipient of your query going, "HUH?" and you don't want that.

This is a part of querying that takes a lot of time, and there are a few ways to go about doing it, but I find that it pays off.

How about you? Do you personalize by referencing books from the editor's list, or do you keep it the same for each query? Any other referencing tips you care to share?


  1. You always provide great advice. Thanks.

  2. I hope you're feeling better today Ishta. Luckily I have improved in personalising query letters and it shows in the responses. It really pays to do a lot of homework. Great post!