Monday, September 21, 2015

Picture Book Queries

Picture Books queries are a different animal from Mid grade and YA queries. You are going to be emailing your entire ms.

I met with two of the four other members of my picture book critique group this week and we each tried to hammer one out.
One question that came up immediately was what do you put in the "experience" part of the query letter when you have yet to be published? 

Everybody had to have a first query. Even Dr. Seuss. And we all know how that one went. It took him lots of tries to get a "yes" for To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. And he had illustrations!

Then there are those of us who write stories only.  Doreen Cronin's first book was Click Clack Moo. Cows That Type. What did she put for experience?
 Best advice I could find was if you have not yet been published. Don't put anything. Except that you are a member of SCBWI.

Advice from Query Letter Wizard:
The first paragraph. Always. Why? Because most query letters are not read top to bottom. Sad, but true. Agents, buried under mounds of submissions, will give your query only a quick look to determine if the first paragraph grabs and sustains their interest.
This is why you must write and re-write those three sentences so they tell the plot and give compelling information about your protagonist and their challenge.
SENTENCE ONE: Introduce your protagonist (main character) and what they want in the first sentence.
SENTENCE TWO: Describe the obstacle (s) that stand in their way.
SENTENCE THREE: Hint at the possible outcome and the terrible "or else" that could happen if your protagonist does not succeed. Write this "tease" to motivate the agent to read your query second paragraph which expands the plot as it involves your protagonist.

Here's another POV Mary Kole's From

 Since most agents ask that the picture book manuscript be included in the submission, writing a really meaty query for that short a manuscript seems a bit silly. When I see picture book queries — and when I write my own picture book pitches, in fact — I keep it very simple.

I’ve had a book by Katie Van Camp and illustrated by Lincoln Agnew called HARRY AND HORSIE in my sidebar for a while as an example of a great picture book with an outside-the-box friendship hook. If you haven’t picked it up yet, I’m sorry for you, because you’re missing out.

If I were writing a query for HARRY AND HORSIE, it would read something like this:

Harry and plush toy, Horsie, are the best of friends. One night, Harry is trying out his bubble-making machine when one of his bubbles swallows Horsie and hoists him into outer space! Harry has to rescue his best friend — and go on a wild space adventure — before returning safely home.

A quirky picture book with a great friendship hook, spare text and retro-style illustration, HARRY AND HORSIE is sure blast your imagination into the stratosphere! This is a simultaneous submission and you will find the full manuscript of XXX words pasted below. I look forward to hearing from you and can be found at the contact information listed below my signature.

Easy peasy. No need to write an elaborate letter. Just present the main characters, the main problem, and the resolution, then work in a hook (“great friendship hook,” above), and sign off like you normally would with a novel query.

After that, just paste the picture book manuscript. If you are an author/illustrator, include a link to an online portfolio where the agent or editor can browse your illustrations. Do not include attachments unless the agent requests to see more illustrations or to see a dummy.
If you are an author/illustrator you provide a link to your portfolio. One of my PB critique members, Cassandra Federman has a wonderful website. Check out her portfolio. She also has a wonderful book to query.

Krysta Wittmore and I have nothing but our words. Together we hammered out the best queries we could. I don't have permission to share theirs, so I will share two of my own. I wrote short letters and did not follow the advice given above, although I did try to write letters that that my voice in them.

Dear John,

Your blog says are looking for fast paced/thrilling/heart-breaking stories. Villains with vulnerability.

So I'm submitting my picture book, Fat Cat and Nat, the Rat (or War and Peace for the challenged reader) complete at 170 words. It's a crime story between rival gang leaders.

Besides writing, I volunteer with young students who are reading challenged. When I ran out of books I wanted to use to help them read, I started writing them. 

I am a member of SCBWI .My Great American Novel, Log on Log, complete at 65 words is contracted by Beach Lane Books.

Dear Linda

 My son’s best friend was terrified of undertows, which she called Undertoads. It set me wondering what would an undertoad look like? I wanted to see their world.

The Undertoads, complete at 463 words is a cautionary tale told by an older child to a younger child. It's in (hold your breath.) rhyme.

NO! Please don't stop reading! It's in meter, I promise you. I was seduced by Dr. Seuss at a tender age. 

I am a member of SCBWI and RWA. My Great American Novel, Log On Log, a picture book, complete at 65 words. is under contract with Beach Lane Books.

Places to Query. Things to do.

Here's a link to Manuscript Wish List agents who are looking for Picture Books. I know you always go to the agency website and check guidelines. Here is a link to more picture book agents. It includes link to their websites and my notes. (Suggest opening it in Excel.)
Do set up your own excel sheet so you can tract your queries. I have columns on my submission sheet for Agency, Email, Project queried, Date sent, Date responded and a note about the response  - or lack of response. So many agents do not respond. I know it hurts. We put so much time and thought into querying. But don't let lack of response stop you.
“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” 
Martha Graham

 How do you query your picture books?   Want to show us one?    Leave it in comments or send to Write on!                   




  1. Thanks for the love Sue! Great article! I hear your voice loud and clear in your query letters. :)

  2. Thank you for this great post and resources. I am struggling with query letters right now so I'm really appreciating your article.

    1. Good luck to you. Just got one back. On to the next.

  3. Great article Sue! Thanks for keeping us on top of our craft!

  4. Wonderful post, Sue. Thanks for doing all the leg work on queries so we don't have to.

  5. Hey Sue! Nice post! CBW-LA just had a Querypalooza workshop last week with agent Eve Porinchak and she gave some great advice. One thing she mentioned is you should only be positive in the letter. I don't think you need to be worried that an agent won't like rhyme. Show you're confident and I think it may be a stronger query. You have a great publishing credit! Keep up the great work!
    Kids Math Teacher


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