Monday, May 13, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #14: Query Letters

You have a manuscript all ready to go.  You've let people read it, taken in feedback, revised it twelve times.  You've researched a few publishers/agents you think might be a good fit.  Now what?

Now, my friend, you must write the dreaded QUERY LETTER!  Dum, dum, DUUUUUUMMMMM!

I don't mean to freak you out - but these are THE WORST.  Everybody hates them.  (And if not everybody, then I don't know the freaky person who doesn't.)  Queries are to writing as auditions are to acting as interviews are to jobs.

But perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.  Do you know what a query letter is?

A query letter is a one page letter that introduces yourself to a potential agent/editor, gives the basics of your story (i.e. 350 word picture book) tells enough about your story to hook them (in the voice of your story) and thanks them for their time.  Boom - it's over.

If the potential agent/editor likes your letter, they will request more.  Now, since this is a picture book workshop, usually you can attach a picture book manuscript to a query letter b/c your manuscript is probably only 3 pages long.  But if you're writing a chapter book or a YA or something, then they'll request the first three chapters.

Let's get into the nitty gritty here.  Let's break down a query letter.
(Following content is from Huffington Post's Anatomy of a Query Letter b/c they're going t say it better than I would.)

1) Opening lines Skip rhetorical questions or flashy introductions. In the first few lines, agents are looking to get a sense of your book’s genre and marketability, not your sense of humor, and definitely not to ponder the answers to any broad questions.
Weak opening: Have you ever wondered what it would be like to star in your own reality TV show? What if you were the only one who didn’t know the cameras were rolling? Find out in my book.
Strong opening: Please consider my 60,000-word mainstream novel about a man whose seemingly ordinary life turns out to be the center of a well-crafted conspiracy.

2) Synopsis
Succinctly describe the plot of your story or concept of your book. This should be one paragraph and focus on the main plot, setting, and characters. Let the agent know where the story takes place, introduce no more than a couple of characters who are pivotal to the main plot, and vividly describe the arc of the story. Let the agent know what is at stake or on the line for these characters; give him or her something to get invested in.

3) Author bio
Now that you’ve shared the outline of your manuscript, it’s time to tell the agent about yourself. Mention publication credits, writing experience and activities, and education. Any excerpts you’ve published in literary journals or magazines should be mentioned specifically, and any expertise you have in the subject you’ve written about should also be noted. If nothing relates directly to the book you’re presenting, list the writing conferences and workshops you’ve attended, general publication credits, or even hobbies unrelated to writing. 

(Julie chimes in:  If you don't have a lot of credentials yet, don't try to pad it.  Keep it short and sweet.)

4) Appreciation
Now that you’ve gotten this far, don’t forget to thank the literary agent for taking the time to review your query. And remember to offer sample chapters (if the agent does not accept sample chapters in the initial query) and/or the complete manuscript (only if it is finished, of course). If mailing your query, be sure to enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the agent’s response.

(Julie chimes in again: Check with agent/editor's submission guidelines on their site about self-addresses stamped envelopes, etc.  You may be doing this digitally, after all.  Everyone has their own way of doing things.)

Thanks Huffington Post! 

That's your basic query how-to.  But I also really love what one of my favorite authors, Maggie Stiefvater, has to say.  I'm not going to put it all in my post.  I'll include the first tip and you can go here to read the rest.

1. People overthink queries. Okay, so they are the only thing that an agent or editor might ever see of your work. So they have to embody everything about your personality and your books personality in a single page. So you will get absolutely nowhere if your queries suck, no matter if you've written the Great American Novel. Still, people overthink them. 

She has another 9 tips.  Check them out.

There's a lot of information out there about queries.  I would suggest reading a few articles and knowing ahead of time that you will need to put some time and effort into crafting your query, just like you put time and effort into crafting your story.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Well said, Julie! A great summary.

Mirka Breen said...

The query pitch doesn't scare me in the least. Maybe in my former life (...) I was a dust-jacket pitch writer. But the synopsis... Oh, that S-word. Painful things, synopses.

Leandra Wallace said...

Oh, the query! *resists the urge to go pull mine up and lament how bad it stinks!* =)

Julie_c said...

Thanks for your comments, guys.
Mirka - I envy you and I agree - the synopsis - Jiminy Christmas! Fortunately, as a picture book writer, I don't have to do those often.
Leandra - I'm sure your query doesn't stink. Or, at least no more than anyone else's. Good luck with it!!!

Sandie said...

Thanks for the information. I will send this out to my writing friends. Great info.

Therese Kay said...

Thanks for the great summary! I'm about to embark on writing my first. Wish me luck! I'm going to need it from the sounds of it!

Therese Kay said...

Maggie's link is no longer active. Here is the new link to the same content:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! The query. Blahkugharghugh..... BUT, your tips are helpful. THANK YOU! Happy writing!