Picture Book Queries

Hey all, sorry to be late with my post this morning. I’m trying to tie some last minute things up before I take off to Boston for a few days to visit publishers. Here’s a 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.

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.

I’ve had requests to write more about picture books, so I will try and fold more posts along these lines into the rotation.

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  1. Megan K. Bickel’s avatar

    Thank you so much for this post! Very helpful!!

  2. Mary Ann Duke’s avatar

    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.)

  3. Shari M.’s avatar

    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?

  4. Cassandra’s avatar

    Good to know! This post answered a question I had rolling around in my head.

    Do you think the picture book market is easier to get into rather than the MG or YA market?

  5. Sheryl McFarlane’s avatar

    This is a great post Mary. I especially love the pb query with a hook. But alas, I still don’t find queries easy, even if the manuscript is under 500 words!

  6. Catherine Johnson’s avatar

    Excellent post, thanks a lot!

  7. Athena’s avatar

    Thanks for the picture book post, Mary. I can never seem to find enough information/advice on picture books. Great post! Hope your trip is productive.

  8. Heather Kephart’s avatar

    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.

  9. Jenn Chushcoff’s avatar

    Great post and example – always appreciate an example!

  10. Rebecca’s avatar

    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 :)

  11. Pauline Nelson’s avatar

    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?

  12. Kristen Hilty’s avatar

    Thanks for the comment. Just learned at the KS-SCBWI conference to include the resolution of a PB in the query…not a tease. Glad to be getting that confirmation here as well!

  13. HeatherLambie’s avatar

    Muchas gracias, that was very helpful! Don’t see too many examples of PB queries online, so this one is uber-valuable to us!

  14. Mary Uhles’s avatar

    Just found your blog and this post. . .very, very helpful! I plan to visit often. Thank you!

  15. Abby’s avatar

    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?

  16. monica’s avatar

    this is awesome! thank you for this post! i’m writing a query right now for my picture book and needed some guidance :)

  17. Paula’s avatar

    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?

  18. Michelle Teacress’s avatar

    I just found this, thanks to a July 2010 post at The Graceful Doe. This PB-specific type of information can be challenging to find, so thank you!

  19. Ellie’s avatar

    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?

  20. Lauri Meyers’s avatar

    Helpful post and example – thanks!

  21. Vivian Kirkfield’s avatar

    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.

  22. Bex Hagan’s avatar

    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?

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