Here’s a picture book query question that came up during my webinar and also from Melanie:
I am wondering about picture book queries in slush piles. Due to the extremely short nature of the manuscripts do you always read the entire manuscript for picture books or do you base it on the letter with them? It’s my impression that since whole manuscripts are sent for picture book queries the letter is more of a cover letter, rather than trying to hook interest with a bit of the plot because the entire thing is there with the letter.
Melanie is completely right. 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.
Picture Book Query Sample
I’ve had a book by Katie Van Camp and illustrated by Lincoln Agnew called HARRY AND HORSIE on my reading list for a while. It’s 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. 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.
How to Get A Picture Book Literary Agent
The query should be short and compelling. Then 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. Be prepared to show additional picture book manuscripts, because agents will frequently want to see more than one.
I’ve had requests to write more about picture books, so I will try and fold more posts along these lines into the rotation.
If you’d like personalized help with your own picture book query, hire me as your picture book editor.