Archive for September, 2011


Here is Part II of the presenttion I recently gave at an SCBWI meeting.  Be sure to check out the links at the end of the article.  There are many people who have gone into more depth on this subject than I have.  Happy reading!!


Snail-Mail Query Format:

For a query sent by regular mail, use quality white paper, with 1” to 1.5” margins. Use fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman. Block style (everything flush left) is popular; single spaced with a double space between each paragraph. Use the standard rules of business letters. No clip-art or fancy fonts.

Include your name, address, phone, e-mail address, website/blog. 

Enclose an SASE for a reply. If you have included sample chapters or the whole picture book manuscript, be sure to let the editor know if you want them returned or recycled.  Each publisher has its own policy regarding return of manuscripts — know what these policies are before enclosing SASE. Some authors enclose a stamped acknowledgement card. You may or may not ever see it again.

E-Query Format:

A query sent via e-mail has some specific formatting rules. The main thing to remember is that this is a business letter and should follow the general rules of business etiquette.

1) Be sure that the editor/agent does accept e-queries. Guidelines can be found in many publications and on the publisher/agent webpage.

2) Subject Line should include the word “Query” or “Requested Material” (if the editor/agent has asked for it). Include the title of the work and the genre, for example: “Query: The Silent Storm (YA).” If you have met the editor/agent at a conference or have read a specific interview on-line, sometimes they request you to put something specific in the subject line, such as “QUERY: SCBWI-Houston.” 

3)  Salutation: Address a specific editor/agent. Do not say “Dear Editor” or “To Whom It May Concern.”  Do not use the person’s first name (unless you already know him/her well). Today, Ms is preferred to Mrs. or Miss, even if you know the person’s marital status. If you do not know the person’s gender, research until you find out. 

4) Your contact information can be placed in the left, upper corner of the e-mail or in the bottom left corner. There are viable arguments for using either method.  Your contact information should include: Full name, address, phone number, website or blog address. It’s not necessary to include the publisher/agency’s contact information.  They know who they are.

5) Body of Query: No more than five paragraphs (as described in Part I). Single space, align left, no indentions, 12 point non-serif font like Arial. Double space between paragraphs. Keep most important info “above the fold” — all on one screen, if possible.

Tip: Send yourself or a friend a copy of the query first to see what it will look like in a browser.

6)  Closing: Be professional; “sincerely” is the standard business closing. Use your full name.

7) Including Materials: Each publisher/agency has its own guidelines. Most do not accept attachments unless they have specifically requested a ms. Sample pages are usually included in the body of the e-mail, after the closing.

Multiple Queries:

It is okay to send out queries to several agents or editors at the same time, but address each query to a specific person. If you are asked to send the manuscript or samples, then you must decide which person will get to read your manuscript.  Some publishers do not allow multiple submissions, other do but want to be informed. Follow whatever guidelines are posted.

 Some Do’s and Don’ts posted on various blogs by agents and editors:

 1) Do not send out an e-mail query en masse. In other words, do not show the names of dozens of editors/agents in the “send to” header of your e-mail. Send each query to a single editor/agent. Spell the person’s name correctly and make sure you have sent it to the right contact person.

 2)  Do not send your query to several editors/agents at the same house/agency.

 3) Do follow the editor/agent guidelines. If they say do not attach a manuscript, then don’t do it. Most editors will not open an attachment unless they have specifically requested it.

 4)  Do include your query letter in the text of the e-mail, not as an attachment.

 5)  Do not run down published books, other editors/agents, other publishers/agencies.

 6)  Do not list the editors/agents who have rejected your manuscript with details of why.

 7)  Do not have a friend or relative submit the query for you.

 8) Do not be cutesy or arrogant. Don’t tell them they are lucky to be receiving your manuscript, that you’ve written the next Harry Potter, etc. Do not say that your children, grandchildren, students or neighbor’s kids think it is great.

 9)  Do not be apologetic, self-depreciating, or whiny.

10) Do not query until your manuscript is completed and in the best shape possible. Non-fiction writers can usually send a proposal first, but it has to be well-developed. Do not try to pitch an idea or ask if the idea is a good one before you write the manuscript

11) Do avoid poor grammar, spelling errors, poor sentence structure and poor word usage.

After You Query

Keep records of your queries. Some editors/agents take months to respond and in the meantime you may forget who got what.  It’s a big turn-off for an editor to receive a manuscript they have already rejected.  I use an index card for each query, but there are on-line sources for keeping track, such as http://www.QueryTracker.com. Include date, company, name of contact and name of manuscript.

Follow-up to the Query

Some publishers will tell you in their guidelines that if you have not heard from them in say six months, you may assume that they are not interested.  If the publisher says they respond in  four months, don’t query them until that four months has passed.  At that time send them a polite request for a status report.  If all you sent was a query (with no samples), the response is typically faster.

Below are some websites that have information about writing queries and sample query letters (both good and bad).  Not all examples are for children’s books.









Some Books about Writing Query Letters:

 How to Write Attention Grabbing Query & Cover Letters (John Wood)

Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract (Blythe Camenson & Marshall Cook)

How to Write Irresistible Query Letters (Lisa Collier Cool)

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books (Harold Underdown)

Query Litters Revisited / Sample Query Letters (Margot Finke)

Write the Perfect Book Proposal (Deborah L. and Jeff Herman)


Read Full Post »