How to Write a Picture Book Query

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.

picture book query, query sample, picture book literary agent
The basis for my picture book query sample.

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.

38 Replies to “How to Write a Picture Book Query”

  1. I know that “it was all a dream” is not an acceptable premise for a PB, but can the main character have a dream which helps her change her attitude and thus solve her own problem? (It’s actually a weird/humorous dream.)

  2. Thanks, Mary, for focusing on picture book queries today.

    I often find it helpful to imagine that I am writing the copy for a catalogue synopsis or the back cover or jacket flap. Others have advised writing the query letter like a book review, but that feels too self-promoting to me.

    By the way, I noticed your sample letter didn’t address the age range of the target audience. I thought this information was expected by agents and editors, along with word count and genre. Is it unnecessary, in your opinion?

  3. Okay, got Harry and Horsie on hold at my library. If it’s as good as you say it is, I’ll be buying a copy!

    Thanks for all the great advice you slapped down during your Webinar. Enjoy Baaaaston. I’ve never been, but it looks like a beautiful city – kind of reminds me of San Fran from what I’ve seen on the tube. Not that I watch the tube as I am busy writing and NOT watching.

  4. I am new to your website and it looks like I found you on just the right day! I always wonder about the query and if it helps or hinders my manuscript. I am still wondering… do you read the query first or the manuscript first? Do you suggest the author sells herself in the query or just the book? Also, in your opinion, how many words should a picture book be? It seems like the number of words is shrinking and shrinking…EEK! Thanks for your expertise and advice. I’m so glad I found you 🙂

  5. Perfect timing! I got out of bed this morning with one item on my To Do list: “Research cover letters for email picture book submissions.” Done! Now I can kick back and rela–I mean, get back to work with fresh energy!! Actually, one question: Should this email contain any personal/professional info about me, the author? Or is this all about the story?

  6. I love this! It is one of the best posts I have come across. I have a question though. The manuscript of my book doesn’t explain the pictures. The pictures tell what shenanigans this funny girl is getting into while the manuscript is all the funny excuses that she gives her mom. How would I submit this? For my crits I have put a description of the picture in parentheses to the side of the text. I’m just not sure if that would be acceptable for an agent or for a query. Any advice?

  7. I’ve always heard that a query should be letter-perfect. Did you intentionally leave the typo to see if we were paying attention–or are editors no longer so picky?

  8. I too have a question about pictures, as my manuscript is just text. I assume it should plow ahead with a similar outline and just skip the part describing the pictures?

  9. Thanks so much, Mary! Short, sweet and to the point…something many of us have a problem doing…especially when writing query letters. I’m in the process of one right now and I’m glad to have found your post.

  10. An agency I’m interested in submitting to allows two picture book manuscripts per submission, does that mean that I SHOULD include two manuscripts? The book I’m submitting is the first in (hopefully) a series. I’ve finished the first two books, but also have another manuscript that is completely different from the series. What is your opinion?

  11. It does look very easy. But isn’t expected that the letter will also include a brief bio and indication of whether it is a mutiple submission?

    1. Sorry, Howard. That piece of advice is incomplete. You absolutely do want to include a short bio paragraph, a mention that you’re submitting to multiple agents (a very widespread practice but it’s still good to mention), and a breezy sign-off with thanks for their consideration. When I write about queries sometimes, I concentrate so much on the “meat” of the letter that I forget about the other components!

  12. Hi, Mary, Thanks for this very useful post. I was recently asked if a cover letter is needed for submissions of children’s picture books. I hadn’t thought of this before. I think you just need a query letter – is that the case?

  13. Hi, I was wondering about illustrations in the manuscript submissions? Would I say within my query that I made the illustrations myself? Would I submit a sample of my illustrations with my query?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *