Children’s Book Publishers - How to Wow Them With a Perfect Query Letter
by Laura Backes
In a perfect world, you'd be able to pitch your manuscript to an editor
over a leisurely cup of coffee. But we're forced to inhabit the real
world, where you've got about 10 seconds to hook an editor before she
decides to continue reading or reach for her form rejection slip. And
more and more, this "hook" must come in the form of a query letter.
A query is a business letter asking permission to send the project
described. It is either sent without an accompanying manuscript, or
with two or three sample chapters (the publisher's guidelines will
state which form the query should take). If the query letter stands
alone, it's your only chance to sell the editor on your book. Many
authors hate the task of writing a query, but it's a necessity in
today's publishing industry. Editors, overwhelmed by the sheer number
of submissions they receive, need a quick way to weed out the good from
the not-so-good. A well-crafted query has a better chance of leading to
a well-crafted manuscript.
The first rule of query writing is that the letter must fit on one
page. That's one side of one page (no cheating and printing a
double-sided letter). Type it single spaced, but leave sufficient white
space at the top and bottom so the letter looks uncluttered and
appealing. Why such length limitations? If you can't sum up your book
in less than a page, you haven't sufficiently clarified your idea.
Your first paragraph (two paragraphs if you've written a longer novel)
conveys to the editor what your book is about. Think of this as the
copy that would go on the jacket flap. You don't want to give away all
the surprises, but you do want to entice the reader to buy the book.
For fiction, establish your main character in a sentence or two,
present the character's primary problem or conflict, mention one or two
things the character plans to do to resolve the problem, and bring up
some of the obstacles that will stand in his way. Hit the high points
upon which the action is based. The synopsis should also reflect the
tone of the book-humorous, scary, action-packed, somber, etc.
Don't discuss the theme, or the underlying message of the book. This
should be obvious to the editor through the plot.
In nonfiction queries to children's book publishers, begin by stating
an interesting fact about your topic that helps establish a market for
your book (Did you know Jello, in its many shapes and forms, is eaten
by 3 million people a day?) Follow this by describing what your book is
about and your particular slant on the topic. In a few sentences
explain your approach and how it's appropriate for the intended age
group, the questions you'll raise and answer, and any additional
materials your book would have (photographs, maps, activities, etc.)
You can add a paragraph explaining your research and any unusual
information you've uncovered. List good firsthand sources available to
you or new data that hasn't ever appeared in a children's book.
After your synopsis, list the book's title, word count, age group and
genre (historical fiction, humorous mystery, science activity book,
etc.) Explain why you've chosen to submit to this publisher
(show that you've done your market research and describe in one
sentence why your book would fit in with this publisher's list). For
nonfiction, also state how your book would be different from other
books on the market on the same topic.
Your next paragraph is about you. Give any information pertinent to
writing children's books (previous publishing credits, memberships in
writing organizations, writing classes you've taken, professional
experience with children of the age group for which you want to write).
Nonfiction credentials may include extensive experience with or study
of the topic. If you don't have any relevant information, skip this
paragraph. Editors know that everyone has to start somewhere.
Finally, ask the editor if you may send the entire manuscript, and
thank her for her time. Attach sample chapters if indicated in the
publisher's guidelines (nonfiction publishers may also request a
chapter-by-chapter outline). Enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope
for the editor's reply. If you're sending a letter only, the SASE can
be a business size envelope. If you're including sample chapters, your
SASE should be large enough to return the entire packet.
Always address the letter and envelope to a specific editor whenever
possible. Use good stationery with your name, address, phone number and
email printed at the top. Send by regular mail-brightly-colored
envelopes, trinkets or treats included in the package, or Fed-Ex
delivery won't increase your chances.
Then, drop your query in the mail and start on your next manuscript!
Backes is the Publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for
Children's Book Writers. Want to learn how to become a successful
children's book author? Come hang with the Fightin' Bookworms athttp://cbiclubhouse.com.
Whether is writing picture books, chapter books, young adult novels,
finding children's book publishers - or anything else - you'll find all
the answers at The CBI Clubhouse.