How to Write a Picture Book Query

There’s a picture book query question that comes up a lot. All of your query letter for picture book questions, answered here!

picture book query
All of your picture book query questions answered here, so you can write great children’s books for these kiddos!

Melanie phrases the question quite well:

I have a query letter for picture book question about the 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 picture book query 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 letter, especially for that short a manuscript seems a bit silly. When I see a picture book query done well — and when I write my own picture book pitches, in fact — it’s usually 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 recommended 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 to blast your imagination into the stratosphere! This is a simultaneous submission. You will find the full manuscript of XXX words pasted below (or “enclosed”). I look forward to hearing from you and appreciate your consideration.

Easy peasy. No need to write an elaborate children’s picture book query 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 book query letter. This is the perfect query letter formula.

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 (more on how to find a literary agent for children’s books here). 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. (More thoughts on writing great children’s books, including read aloud picture books here.)

If you’d like personalized help with your own picture book query, or your entire manuscript, hire me as your picture book editor.

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

  1. Mary Ann Duke says:

    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. 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?

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 🙂

  8. Pauline Nelson says:

    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?

  9. 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!

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

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

  12. 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?

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

  14. 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?

  15. 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!

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. Bex Hagan says:

    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?

  19. Gina Bullock says:

    Do you have any suggestions on how to create an online portfolio, or a site that you would suggest.

  20. Lisa Clouser says:

    I was feeling overwhelmed trying to find info. for PB queries. I will be using your site often. Thank you Mary! :o)

  21. Howard Zilber says:

    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!

  22. 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?

  23. 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?

  24. Beth Gallagher says:

    Wonderful advice! Thanks for a great post. 🙂

  25. Leanne Rain says:

    Love the sparsity of the query!

    What about introductions? How should the opening to the agent/ publisher be addressed? Would the first paragraph include a ‘Dear So and So’?



  26. Hi. Thanks for the info on the query letter. But what if you don’t have illustrations? Just a manuscript.

    1. Mary Kole says:

      You’re welcome to craft the pitch in much the same way, but send only the manuscript (per the submission guidelines—usually copied and pasted in the body of the email). Omit all mention of illustrations. Picture book manuscripts (without illustrations) still sell!

  27. This is very helpful. I am so glad I found your site! 🙂
    Thank you!

  28. Is this still what’s recommended ten years later? Thanks!

    1. Mary Kole says:

      Absolutely. Query letters haven’t changed in probably 20-30 years, with the exception of now including more data in your bio paragraph.

  29. Kira Sokolovskaia says:

    Thank you for this post!
    What I don’t get is how to introduce yourself and lead the first paragraph of the letter to the query itself. It is also not clear how to say why am I writing to exactly this publisher/agent. I mean, sometimes it is easy to say(if half of my bookshelf is full of books by this publisher), but sometimes it is just very difficult.

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