Archive for August, 2011

I recently gave a presentation to an SCBWI Chapter on the topic of Query Letters. Here, in a nutshell, is everything I know about queries. I have too much material to include in one blog, so I am dividing it into two Parts.

Query Letter vs. Cover Letter

A query letter is a request to submit a full manuscript or sample chapters.  It is a sales pitch that should entice the editor or agent to read more.  It should give a taste of your book, a description of what it is, what is special about it — all in one page.  Sometimes the editor or agent allows sample pages (for example the first ten pages of a novel) to be included with the query letter.

A cover letter is sent with the whole manuscript or proposal after the editor or agent requests it.  Make the cover letter very short.  Give your contact information, the title of the work, its genre and word count, and a thank you for the request. No need to rehash the synopsis and your credentials, which were already discussed in the query letter.  Indicate if it is a simultaneous submission.  Include SASE. If submitting by snail-mail, put “Requested Material” on the outside of the envelope. 

Note about Picture Book Queries: Most publishers want you to send the entire manuscript for picture books because they are typically under 1000 words. So, for picture books, the query letter is also the cover letter.  Type the manuscript as straight text (for example for a 32 page picture book, do not send 32 pages with text on each page). If the text is in stanza format, you may put extra spaces between each stanza. Do not include illustrations or suggestions for illustrations.  Do not send a picture book dummy. If you are an established, professional artist, you may include one sample illustration (copy only — never the original).

Before You Send the Query Letter:

Step One: Do market research to determine which editors/agents are more likely to want your manuscript. Consult publications such as the SCBWI Publisher’s Market Survey or The Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market. Also, consult publishers’ and agents’ websites and blogs to see what kinds of books they are publishing or representing. Study publishers’ catalogs to see what they are publishing.

Step Two: Follow Submission Guidelines. Some publishers/agents do not allow e-mail queries (e-queries), while others prefer that media. Some will allow you to enclose sample pages, or the entire manuscript if it is a picture book. Some will allow you to send a manuscript or sample chapters as an e-mail attachment, others want the sample pages as part of the e-mail itself.  Half the battle is getting your query into the hands of the intended editor or agent.

Step Three: Address the query letter to a specific editor or agent. [more about multiple submissions in Part II]

Step Four:  Write the best query letter you can.  Make it sing. Some editors/agents won’t read past the query if it is not appealing. There are no “exact” rules for what goes into a query letter, but most experts agree that the following parts should be included.


Note:  A query letter should be no more than one page.

First Paragraph: Intro — If you know something about the editor/agent, start with that.  For example, you met her at a conference or read her blog or an article where she said she was looking for MG mysteries.  Add a sentence telling the title, genre, word count and target audience of the manuscript. Mention if it is intended for a publisher’s specific series or line.

Second Paragraph: The Pitch — Give a brief, engaging synopsis of your manuscript. Pretend you are writing the book jacket blurb. Use your best writing, and use the style of the manuscript — humor, suspense, romance. Read lots of  blurbs to get a feel for this.

Third Paragraph: Your Credentials and Expertise — Mention your published writing credentials, memberships in professional writers’ organizations, writing degrees, writing awards.  Today, editors like to see that you have an Internet presence, so list your website, blog, twitter account, etc. If you have thousands of followers, it is a big plus.  Do not include personal information such as number of children. Do not say that your children or neighbors’ children or your students enjoyed the story. Do not include your occupation and personal background unless it ties in with the subject of the manuscript.  If you have no writing credentials at all, just stay quiet and skip that paragraph. Never say you just want the book published for your children or grandchildren and don’t care if you never sell another book. Do not run down your own work.  Don’t mention previous rejections.

Fourth Paragraph: Closing — Thank the editor/agent for her/his time.  Ask if you may send the manuscript or samples for consideration. [Some people prefer to put this in the first paragraph].  Cover letters for your submission will be discussed in Part II. 

Extra Paragraph: For Non-fiction — Non-fiction proposals also include a paragraph (usually paragraph #3) that mentions marketing strategies and how the topic ties in with school curricula. For nonfiction, your expertise in the topic is important.

End of Part I

My next Query Letter Blog will include information about the formating of the query letter and links to query resources. 

Happy reading!


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